It seems like only yesterday that Basement Jaxx were taking Glastonbury by storm and playing a fieldstorming cover of Kylie Minogue‘s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head in tribute to the unwell Aussie poppet. They followed this up with their first “best of” at the end of 2005. Now, just nine months later, comes their fourth new record, Crazy Itch Radio. And if a record could define the international metropolis that is London in summer 2006, this certainly stakes a claim.
From start to end it’s as colourful and varied as the garish neon cover purports. Like a carnival of music and styles packed on a float of amphetamines, each track kicks in to the next without pause for breath and showcases a veritable kaleidoscope of party animals from every corner of the globe, all along for the ride. Live collaborator Vula Malinga gets the party started with lead single Hush Boy; Lady Marga pops up on Run 4 Cover; Linda Lewis shimmies past on Lights Go Down and, best of all, “Swedish pop sensation” Robyn fights for dancin’ space on Hey U. There’s even room for some Lily Allen backing vocals on Lights Go Down.
It’s with this track that Felix and Simon have most obviously cast their ears (south-)east for a groove that takes its cue, hook, line and sinker, from Balkan folk music. What sounds like a trumpet sample from one of Goran Bregović‘s Underground coceks – it’s actually by Fanfare Ciocarlia – proves to be the icing on the cake of a riotously inventive production that cries out to be played over and over again. Somehow they manage to cram 30 orphans from Malawi on to the start of the track too, after Felix showed up at the African nation’s Lake Of Stars festival.
All this international fusion gets followed by On The Train, part bingo hall soundtrack and part Balkan-Brixton garage mash-up. Run 4 Cover keeps things Balkan with a grime lyric laid down over hammering drums and all manner of background whoops, burbles and yelps. Later, Everybody nets in some well-placed Hindi samples to give an edge to a track that wants to be a single.
Such frenetic numbers must necessarily be broken up by slower numbers such as Smoke Bubbles and Lights Go Down, and as the titles suggest they are chilled out tunes, but these do meander off the radar. A hidden final track follows in the same downtempo vein.
Throughout, a radio station concept manifests itself as sundry interconnecting “DJ” wibblings about pizza and other forgettable matters which, despite erring on the wrong side of hackneyed, does at least give the record some cohesion. And yet there’s a niggling feeling that there are lots of semi-formed ideas vying for space.
For all the colour and flair apparent on Crazy Itch Radio, and despite some genuine gems – download Hey U, Run 4 Cover, Everybody and closing strings-laden U R In My Mind – a reliance on production and arrangement where some more killer tunes would have worked more memorably is, perhaps, an indication that the Jaxx have, down the years, simply set the bar high. Whatever, Crazy Itch Radio as a whole sounds like an event waiting to happen – it’s likely to come into its colourful, carnivalesque own in the live arena.