Premature Evaluation: Justice Audio, Video, Disco
First things first: There’s no “D.A.N.C.E.” on Justice’s sophomore album. There’s not really any “DVNO” either. Much of Justice’s original popular appeal lay in their ability to craft these ridiculously catchy, instantly memorable fizzy dance tunes, and other than a vaguely sticky little vocal line on “Newlands,” they’ve pretty much entirely left that behind now. Another side of the duo’s early sound was the blaring in-the-red riff-dance banger: “Waters Of Nazareth,” “Phantom,” the aptly titled “Stress.” Those snarling tracks are all gone, too. If you go into Audio, Video, Disco hoping for a specific thing that you got out of Justice’s †, you will not be happy. For that reason, plenty of people will tell you that Justice fell off with Audio, Video, Disco. They didn’t, though. Not really.
I should clarify up front that I was never a convert to †; I liked plenty of the singles, loved “Waters Of Nazareth,” and thought the album did interesting things, but I didn’t like how it pushed its brickwalled sound so hard against my brain that I couldn’t listen to it for more than 20 minutes without getting a headache. With Audio, Video, Disco, I still have a headache after listening to it on repeat for long enough to write this piece, but it took me a while. That’s progress! The real progress, though, is the way the band managed to combine all its favorite ideas — wheedley metal riffage, sparking synthwork, coke-sweat sleaze, ’80s-pop sleekness — into one uniform sound, a sound they maintain throughout the album. It’s a sound that belongs entirely to them, and it’s a sound that connects some interesting dots.
This is a bit off-topic, but I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with the book Rock N Roll Always Forgets, a career-spanning anthology from the great rock critic (and my former boss) Chuck Eddy. Eddy gets labeled as a contrarian, but his real gift is that he hears cross-genre connections that nobody else catches, like the way AC/DC’s insistent drum-stomp pushes them toward disco, or calling Public Enemy “the black Big Black” (in 1988!) for their all-out uglification assault. The thing I like best about Audio, Video, Disco is the way it sounds like the two dirtbag Parisians have been reading the same book as I have, then taking their best shot at making those connections explicit in their own music.
The album rocks, or at least it tries to. Usually, dance-music attempts at rock stop at shitty detuned guitar riffs, psychedelic sprawl, or awkwardly grafted-on guest vocals. It’s an idea of rock, being made by people who don’t totally understand the form. With Justice, though, I have the feeling that they’ve spent serious time examining tape of Angus Young guitar solos, for instance, or picking apart the intricacies of Emerson, Lake and Palmer intros. So “Canon” has a synth-figure that sounds like it was a great hair-metal guitar riff in another life. “Newlands” essentially builds itself on AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” intro, which is quite possibly the best intro ever. A half-serious power-metal band could have a lot of fun covering “Civilization.”
It doesn’t all work. The vocals, for instance, are a major issue — that Romanthony-style suave Euro singing, for instance, doesn’t come anywhere near conveying the sort of passion that these songs demand. And not all of the tracks kick as hard as they should. But it’ll be interesting to see how the album does. It’s essentially a minor conceptual work, but it’s the group’s second album, and it took them four years to make. There’s nothing particularly insistent about its hooks, and many of these tracks, at least in pre-remix form, probably won’t work too well in clubs. And yet, it’s a fun, interesting album that pushes the duo places where they really didn’t have to go. For that alone, it deserves respect.