Taio Cruz | Rokstarr

Mercury (2010)
By MIKAEL WOOD  |  June 24, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

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When Taio Cruz sings, "I can't live without you," in "Take Me Back," pop-song conventions tell us he's referring to a lover. Yet to judge by the high-tech synth-soul sound of Rokstarr — which recently yielded a #1 hit in the form of the Ludacris-equipped "Break Your Heart" — it's actually machines that Cruz can't live without.

This UK singer/songwriter/producer takes state-of-the-art cyborg pop (think will.i.am or The-Dream) to a stylistic extreme, layering ultra-processed vocals over computer-born beats that often suggest the pumping of pistons. (If the phrase "industrial music" didn't conjure images of black-clad goth-metal types, it would describe Rokstarr perfectly.)

Cruz's dependence on new-jack software doesn't mean he lacks an appreciation for old-school tunecraft: up-tempo club jams like "Break Your Heart," "Dynamite," and "I Can Be" sport melodies sturdy enough to support all the digital detailing, and power ballads such as "I'll Never Love Again" and "Falling in Love" do the gathering-steam thing as efficiently as more traditionally presented songs by Diane Warren or Kara DioGuardi. Cruz may be a robot, but he knows that his market is made up of humans.

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