VHS or Beta – Night on Fire

Music Reviews VHS or Beta
VHS or Beta – Night on Fire

No one expected to hear from Louisville’s VHS or Beta again after its 2002 nouveau disco opus Le Funk. They were a little-known outfit on a tiny label whose conceptual hook—guitar-based band plays continental disco/house instrumentals—seemed gimmicky, despite the presence of a couple quality dance anthems. But subsequent indie trends (electroclash and dance-punk) have kept VHS or Beta in the game, and here they are two years later, making their major-label debut.

It sounds as though they’ve stayed relevant by evolving, because Night on Fire is a different sort of record altogether. Consisting mostly of proper New Wave songs, Night on Fire gives lead singer Craig Pfunder a chance to use his voice, which splits the difference between Simon LeBon’s glammy camp and Robert Smith’s gloomy whine. Indeed, The Cure’s “Let’s Go to Bed,”” with its brilliant “verse slowly turning the corner into the chorus” structure, seems the obvious template for about half the tracks. Good song to emulate, certainly, but a new twist is essential, and VHS or Beta are helpless to provide it.

Instead we get a handful of OK songs that will make no one forget the ’80s classics from whence they came. Night on Fire is going to need a gifted remixer to transform it into the dance-floor-packer it aspires to be, and “Alive” aims for Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” territory but lands limply a couple rings away. Oddly, the best songs are instrumentals like “Nightwaves,” which contains a needed jolt of musical humor in the form of earnest guitar riffing pulled from the Miami Vice soundtrack. Night on Fire does little to distinguish itself in a crowded field.

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