A little credit

Bad reviews are born of high expectations, and like all adjectives, “high” is pretty relative.

Aside from Rolling Stone — that bastion of taste! — most media outlets have given Dirty Vegas reviews ranging from bad to vitriolic. The fact the trio’s self-titled debut is a chart hit only reinforces that stance. (Id est, if it’s popular, it must be crap.)

Thing is, some of the criticisms levied at the group are indeed on target. Dirty Vegas, the album, does become homogenous after a while, and no, Dirty Vegas, the group, can’t be accused of shaking things up too much — “Days Go By” is a hit; why mess with that formula?

But Dirty Vegas, album and band, isn’t half as ambitious as hipster publishers think it is.

It’s office music. It’s party music. In short, it’s background music.

Maybe not background music on the level of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports — or Tift Merritt’s Bramble Rose, for that matter — but it’s a decent collection of tunes made to sound like a club mix.

Dirty Vegas does deserve some credit — most dance music is little more than a string of one-liners and pre-fabbed samples, all texture and little substance.

Singer Steve Smith and non-brothers Ben Harris and Paul Harris attempt to fashion choruses and verses into dance music. That’s above and beyond what most electronica requires.

“Ghosts” makes for a sensible second single, its chorus total radio fodder. “7 AM” belies a strong Everything But the Girl influence — think “Missing” — while “Candles” sounds totally ready for a Zero 7 remix.

Set against a lush synthetic background, Smith’s raspy-nasal voice sounds at home, but the acoustic version of “Days Go By”, tacked on as a bonus track, does reveal the limitations — and charm — of his singing.

The trio flexes its MIDI skills on a few instrumental tracks, “Throwing Shapes” being the most ambitious of all the songs on the album.

But in the end, Dirty Vegas strikes a pleasing balance between dance music’s love for minimalism and songwriting’s need for structure. If you’re expecting more than that, you’re listening too closely.