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LABEL: Virgin Records RELEASE DATE: March 14, 2005 GENRE: Electro
// review by Jeff

Another album gets the Benassi name stamp on it!

Before I begin, I have a confession to make. In previous reviews I've written, I have made many references to a sound known as the "Benassi Bass". It's the main synth that Benny Benassi used in his hit song, "Satisfaction", as well as pretty much every song on his debut album. Subsequently, other artists have utilised this particular sound for their own hits, cashing in on the clubby sound made famous by Benassi (and usually in conjunction with a popular song from the 1960s or 1970s that time slowly forgot, only to be revived in lame danceable fashion). However, I absolutely must point out that Benny Benassi most assuredly did NOT invent this synth noise; in fact, it was probably employed long before he put it to popular use in 2002. I will henceforth try to stop calling it the "Benassi Bass" because, in reality, it is simply another preset on most producers' electronic keyboards that seemed to become famous for some reason.

That being said, I can now formally introduce the debut album from the Benassi Bros., entitled "Pumphonia". The duo consists not of brothers though, but of the cousins Alle and Marco Benassi, the latter of which is better known under the alias of Benny Benassi who has created numerous dancefloor-friendly hits, including the aforementioned "Satisfaction", as well as "Able To Love", "Who's Your Daddy?", and the newest release (as of this review writing), "I Am Not Drunk". However, together the Benassi Bros. form what I consider to be a more powerful production force that can extended beyond the simplicity of one man's vision alone (even though they still work together for all Benny Benassi releases... hmmm...) This album takes a step forward from the duo's previous work, the 2003 album "Hypnotica" by Benny Benassi pres. The Biz, which while funky, did not vary much in its style and could be considered rather repetitive and uncreative after a few songs' listening. In the case of "Pumphonia", much has changed: the vocals are more varied (well, okay, a little bit more varied), the instrumentation is no longer merely centred upon that one overused bass sample Benassi fans have become accustomed to, and the overall composition style feels tighter and more creative. The brains of the Bros. have been utilised quite well. That's not to say that the album is in any way perfect, but it is indeed a step in the right direction for the duo.

The album starts out with an instant hook (and also one of the singles), entitled Illusion. My first advice to all you listeners out there is to keep your volume low when you begin playing the CD. I once had my car volume cranked up when I started playing and the result was gritty and heart-wrenchingly frightening. Avoid initial loudness! However, "Illusion" is a solid introductory track to the album, offering the strong vocal talents of Sandy Chambers, one of dance music's most prolific voices of the 1990s, as well as the typical sound of the Benassi Bros. in electro-dance fashion. The same could be said of its follower, Turn Me Up, which is also a powerful dance track (although to be honest, the vocals do tend to become somewhat overbearing). If you can stand the word "Up!" being repeated constantly over the chorus, you'll find this to be a fun little melodic romp through electro territory. The next track, Rumenian, features the almost computerized vocal styles of Violeta from The Biz (whom the Benassi Bros. had previously allied for on the "Hypnotica" album), singing in the rumenian language, none of which I can remotely comprehend. The instrumental refrain is where the real energy lies with its forceful synth -- it's rather loud yet quite effective (not to mention catchy)! This is one of the stronger tracks of the album.

Another tune in the same style as "Illusion" follows: Get Better, which was based on an old track by a past project of the Benassi Bros., uses the voice of Sandy Chambers again. While it is as good of a song as the previous ones in the same style from a production perspective, it does not stand out as anything special. The duo slows it down for The Liar though, featuring vocals by The Biz. As far as electro-ballads go, this one is certainly unique and definitely worth a listen. Take caution, however, in the fact that this song boasts a very deep bass, so keep a close eye on the state of your subwoofers and the settings of your equalizer! Memory Of Love also had become a single from this album eventually (I reviewed this particular single perchance; the review is available here), and is perhaps the track which uses the greatest variety of instruments alongside guest vocalist Paul French of The Biz. It starts out slow but eventually builds up into an enjoyable dance track that strays somewhat from the instrumental formula that the Benassi Bros. typically use.

I Feel So Fine was initially a sort of downtempo electro-dance track released by KMC featuring Dhany back in 2001, which actually was yet another side project of Benassi Bros. Dhany is back for a second go, and Alle & Marco are pumping up the energy this time around. It is much more boisterous and loud with the popular bassline they had used in such tunes as "Illusion" and "Turn Me Up", plus a new melody has been infused into the song, but everything works out quite well in the end. Especially amusing is the use of reverb effects to overlap vocals during the final set of Dhany's lines in the track, adding to an already arm-raising atmosphere. This is admittedly my favourite track on the album now, just as it was when I first bought the album a few summers ago. Unfortunately, it is a difficult act to follow, and I Love My Sex fails to meet the standards set by the track before it. Although it would not be unsuitable for the "Hypnotica" album (and I believe this track is actually on that album as well), this monotonous droner just feels tacked on at the last minute as an old track to fill some time. The sound made popular by Benny Benassi's "Satisfaction" is used again, but to about the same effect with nothing new or exciting added. I usually skip over this one.

The biggest single off the album came from the next track, Hit My Heart. The single version added more verses between the chorus, but otherwise there are few differences. Perhaps the reason why the single was so popular had to do with its video, featuring Dhany in a skimpy bikini, singing while rolling around on a sandy beach. ...Hey, I liked it. The chorus features a very simple rolling melody but it is presented in a powerful way so everything works out well. I am pleased with this song overall, even though it could have used more vocals on the album version, but we don't always get what we want. Such might also be the case for untempered ears who get a wafting of sound from Time Is What You Need, which is clearly the most abrasive of the offerings found here. Admittedly, this track is an acquired taste. At first, you might not enjoy the general monotony, the loud instrumentation, or the drab lyricisms, but it might just grow on you over time if you can handle the power. It took me a week or so to truly understand the inspiration behind it. It's electro at its roughest.

Don't Touch Too Much is just as endearing as "I Love My Sex": it's that hollow. It also appeared on the "Hypnotica" album (with the Benassi Bros. marqueed as a Special Guest), so it's nothing followers of the duo haven't seen before. It fits with Benny Benassi's album because the entire product is composed of entirely this sound, but "Pumphonia" seems to be striving for a bit more. It will likely be another skipped-over track, even though it is deemed a 'classic' in the Benassi library. The album concludes with the Sflow version of "Get Better", which is just a downtempo electro remix of the original. Sometimes it seems competent, but other times, it feels more like just a sloshing of effects and noises clumped together to form a tune. It's not my cup of tea, but who knows what others may think?

When I bought this album, I thought that it was the best album that I had ever purchased, a mental effect that hovered over me for a couple of years. Having reviewed the album, that notion has since dissipated, and the deficiencies of the work is now more apparent. Having said that, this is still a somewhat decent production from the Benassi Bros. and is only topped by their following album, "...Phobia", which contains, without a doubt, the best material out there ever to have been garnished with the Benassi name. Nonetheless, "Pumphonia", though not perfect by any means, should not be tossed aside; fans of electro-style music will be sure to find something to love in this album.


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