Junkie XL Booming Back at You

[Artwerk; 2008]

Styles: stadium-ready electro-rock
Others: Crystal Method, Justice, The Spice Girls

Dutchman Tim Holkenborg has garnered accolades, production credits, and record deals from some of pop music’s biggest names over the course of the last decade. Decorated with the Grand Prix of the Netherlands as best house producer in 1996, he nabbed top-of-the-charts honors in the UK for his reworking of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” in 2002. Booming Back at You is the first album he’s recorded for Artwerk, a record label started by video-game company Electronic Arts.

The record is full of club-ready bangers that rely heavily on dance-rock clichés. Flat, unimaginative production gives the impression that these tracks were more or less put together in uninspired anticipation of the channel-throwing and low-end hijinks of club DJs. Finesse is routinely sacrificed here to the prospect of dancefloor fun. In short, Booming Back at You is not a headphones album. With this in mind, we should judge Holkenborg not as techno auteur, but on his creativity as party-starter. Sadly, there is little on offer here that merits praise by that metric either. “Stratosphere,” for example, traffics in the element-by-element build that any DJ worth his salt (lime and tecano) will exploit to titillate clubbers. The song’s tacky dial-tone synths jive alone before the staggered arrival of aggro electric guitars and the phasered vitus-dance of a digital counterpoint.

This is the relentless approach on Booming Back at You, the only real deviation being “Mad Pursuit,” where Holkenborg channels a Goldfrapp vibe for a shimmery ballad that uses actual telephone samples, not just synths that sound like them. (I am doing my best not to say that Holkenborg has phoned this one in.) It’s probably better not to say too much about “1967 Poem,” a trite crescendo-to-crescendo workout whose sole lyric is, I kid you not, “Shit!” -- but then again, it does seem to be the template on which many of the album’s other songs are based. In short, Holkenborg recites house’s formulae by heart, but his music does little to steer the electro party in a new or interesting direction. What should be fun ends up rather obnoxious.

Lackluster sound quality, predictable track construction, and the utter absence of emotional push and/or pull yield a record that comes off more like a product placement than a work of art. Junkie XL and Electronic Arts may make for a good commercial marriage; unfortunately, this record does very little to convince me that said marriage will produce worthwhile music.

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