Justice Audio, Video, Disco

[Ed Banger; 2011]

Rating: 1.5/5

Styles: half-assed hair metal, electro-house
Others: Aerosmith, Bon Jovi

went hard. Justice’s 2007 debut was a visceral listen and, more importantly, a highly memorable one because of its relatively simple formula. Take cheesy hooks and the basic elements of house and slather them in sizzling distortion; jack the bass up, stick in a few stabbing strings halfway between “Miura” and the Psycho soundtrack, and voilà! You have yourself an addicting record with surprisingly broad appeal. Frat boy at a party wanting to find some music that isn’t Wavves to get his straight fuck on with? “Phantom”! Looking for something trashy that won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth the next morning? Have the one-two punch of “Valentine” and “Tthhee Ppaarrttyy”! Prefer your house a bit more fruity? “D.A.N.C.E.”! Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé had crafted a record that fit in everywhere yet was highly distinguishable from the pack, triggering pleasure centers without entirely catering to them.

Given all this, I can’t help but wonder: who does Justice consider their audience now? Because Audio, Video, Disco is mind-numbingly awful, seemingly engineered to display “sophomore growth” without providing any evidence of, uh, improvement. This may be evolution, but it’s a huge step backwards. For an album that deals in brazenly uncool arena-rock influences, these songs are surprisingly flaccid. “On’n’on” has a decent hook that would make the track tolerable were it not for the sheer interminability of the whole affair; would it really have killed these two to jack the tempo up just a bit? Not everything is unequivocally terrible — the synth flute solo in “Parade” is one of the few moments where Justice’s embracing of the cheesiest of influences pays off. Yet at the end of that very song is a fade-out fake-out that’s not only unnecessary, but also borderline insulting. Really, guys? You expect people to buy this bullshit as evidence of how far you’ve come since the paint-by-numbers-then-proceed-to-giddily-oversaturate-all-colors madness that was ?

I’m fairly certain that Xavier and Gaspard would answer that question with a defiant “no,” which is almost worse than the considerably low quality of the music itself. Their conscious effort to move away from the sounds that placed them firmly into electro-house territory is both understandable and commendable if done well, but a lot of this stuff is too knowingly outdated for its own good, almost challenging listeners to derisively declare it “clichéd” or “tacky.” That’s exactly what made one of 2011’s other big letdowns, Tyler, The Creator’s Goblin, so disappointing. Whereas that album presented a catch-22 in its disclaimers and pseudo-reflective statements like “I’m not homophobic… faggot,” Audio, Video, Disco seems to beg its audience to criticize its triteness, with the intention of turning the tables and calling listeners shallow for judging music on those bases. Thankfully, if this is their mission, they don’t succeed, because ultimately, what makes this album execrable isn’t how it presents itself in the social spectrum of pop, but how it presents itself sonically. If the songwriting is a letdown, the production is doubly disheartening. Oi, you don’t have to use your flanger on every single synth and vocal line! It might actually make “Civilization” and “Ohio” listenable! (No guarantees, though.)

It’s slightly distressing that the best moments here — ”Horsepower” and “Canon” — are the ones that most closely adhere to ’s sonic template, running on actual energy instead of whatever weak substance fuels the album’s otherwise limping beats. The former track, serving as the album’s opener, is disturbingly reminiscent of ’s eardrum-busting overture, “Genesis,” with its slow, almost self-consciously epic introduction and tempo change a third of the way in. “Canon” is pretty good, but its ascending arpeggios call to mind the stylings of “Waters of Nazareth,” which only highlights just how much better the latter song was. But still, they’re the strongest tracks here, and I hardly think it’s a coincidence that they are two songs in which those horribly produced vocals are underplayed.

And let’s be brutally honest here: if Justice aren’t being exciting, what are they doing? was enjoyable because it was a burst of dopamine all the way through; strip it of that adrenalized sheen and you’re left with something fairly primitive both harmonically and melodically. Audio, Video, Disco tries to change things up, replacing that down-and-dirty layer with an artificially slick one while making some changes to the way the duo treats song structure. Its failure to make these “developments” — if we can call the resultant musical regression that — is dispiriting. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the press materials for the record read as being slightly defensive, declaring it “a huge album that panders to no one, equally at home blaring from a dance club soundsystem or performed in an arena.” Reality, however, is far more bleak. Audio, Video, Disco is simply too unfocused, too half-baked, and too busy hiding its inadequacies with superficially interesting window-dressing to fit in either of those settings — or any other.

Links: Justice - Ed Banger

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