The year was 2007. It was June, the height of summer; a typically rain-drenched British summer. Perhaps fittingly, Rihanna’s Umbrella was dominating the charts, the dancefloors, and the absent-minded tootling of bored office workers around the country. We needed a shake-up. And we needed one badly.
Lucky for us, across the channel, a little known French electronic duo were set to invade our middling lives with a debut album of such thick, ferocious, and outrageously inventive acid house, they would have us throwing mad mechanical shapes all summer long. The electronic duo were called Justice. Their album was †. It was a revelation.
Perhaps our fevered reaction to † offended Justice because on the two albums since – 2011’s prog-rock dabbling Audio, Video, Disco and this album here, Woman – Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay seem intent on never inciting us to throw such outlandish shapes again.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Justice moving away from † to explore new territory. It’s just that, unfortunately, their last two explorations have yielded patchy results.
In theory, Audio, Video, Disco’s marrying of Justice’s dense, motorised beats with live instrumentation, pop stylings, and a spot of proggy guitar noodling could have worked, but the reality was a disappointment, as they conjured up a theatricality that felt corny rather than captivating.
This time around, on their third full-length Woman, we are grateful the prog rock influences have, for the most part, been abandoned.
But that doesn’t mean Justice are moving backwards. Cross 2.0 this is not. Instead we find Justice plowing further down the road of melding live instrumentation with tight electronic sequencing, with the pop sensibilities emerging on Audio, Video, Disco handed the centre ground here.
In terms of production, it’s a successful melding. The album sounds slick; as slick as the oily gloss slathered over the trademark cross on the front cover.
There are highlights here. The surprise inclusion of a slap-bass groove on first track Safe And Sound propels us nicely into the album. It could do without being combined with such heavenly choral vocals, which sit unevenly on top, but there are some cracking strings that add a flourish to the latter stages of the song. It’s an undeniably funky welcome back to Justice, after five years apart.
However, things take an abrupt nosedive on the next track, Pleasure. The falsetto vocals are sickly sweet, as they sing over and over “Use imagination, as a destination.” There is a decent enough clap and stomp to the beat but the vocal delivery and hackneyed lyrics, as in other places on the album, really let the track down. Stop, Randy, and in particular Love SOS, suffer from this same problem, which is a shame, because with their inventive compositions and production there is scope for Justice to succeed down these pop-centred avenues. They just really need to work on their songwriting.
It’s not surprising then that when Woman works, it’s mostly in its instrumental passages. Alkazam! has a rumbly, energetic bassline at its core – reminding a little of Todd Terje’s Delorean Dynamite from his 2014 LP It’s Album Time – some springy hi-hats, and some sharply inhaling electronic effects. And Heavy Metal, with its twinkling keys, could have soundtracked a Dario Argento slasher flick from the 1970s.
Chorus has the unwanted privilege of being the longest and most unlistenable track on the album, with its abrasive wall of fuzz taking up the majority of the seven minute run-time, without showing much variation other than simply fading up and down in volume.
There are some infectious grooves here and there but they don’t crackle and snap the way they once did. Who knows, maybe Justice are tired of people prattling on about their first album, but then that’s the difficulty when you pop up out of nowhere with such an era-defining debut.
Their experiments have not quite worked out this time but dismiss Justice at your peril. There’s too much quality in this duo. They could just spring another surprise on us.