The 2 Bears are tourists, and they’re OK with that. They’re not from here, but they know they’re not slumming it. And they fit in just fine. They’re goofballs but they’re not lightweights.
Raf Rundell (of Greco-Roman Soundsystem) and Joe Goddard (of Hot Chip fame) know popular dance music up, down and across, from Chicago house to DC go-go to the “Madchester” trance of their early youth. Be Strong is a tribute to the percussive, pleasure-seeking sounds they adore, brimming with cheeky humor but too reverent to be outright satirical. This music is endearingly self-aware and fundamentally incapable of taking itself too seriously, but it also seems to honestly believe that the world can be saved through love, sex, partying, hard work and a great beat. It makes a strong argument.
It’s a delicate balance. The Bears do indulge in disposable in-jokes, such as the slide-tinged country-fusion number “Time In Mind,” to the extent that it’s hard not to think of this as side-project. And the entire conceit is unapologetically referential and retro, which can always wear thin. But get past that and even at its most gimmicky and cannibalistic, it’s never less than mad fun. It’s even more so at its most passionately serious about the art and science of dance music. If it’s pastiche, it’s pastiche of the most resolute sort.
Unlike defensive pop critics, The 2 Bears don’t need to apologize for being a mite ridiculous. The best of Be Strong is such high-octane dance music that it can elevate the most cheeky novelty number (“Ghosts & Zombies” on the dance floor, anybody?) into the realms of transcendent hedonistic release. And the relentless lyrical optimism is never sarcastic or condescending and never luxuriates in superficiality. Indeed, Goddard and Rundell are so effortlessly charming that they make shutting out the world, tearing the club up, and loving your friends and your life and your record collection, when times are this hard, seem like a damned near heroic endeavor. They can damned well afford their talk of “bear hugs” and their general air of self-mockery. And their charisma lets them make a few risky moves (such as the African percussion on the extended closer “Church”) and yield massive returns.