Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Justice - Woman Review

The French House scene, ever since its rise to prominence in the late 1990's, has been dominated by one name; Daft Punk. Part of that is thanks to their unparalleled influence, talents, and mystery. However, the other half arises in the form of nothingness, as no single artist ever staked a claim to be their primary competitor. Which may have inadvertently caused French House to be the mighty early 2000's flicker that it was, erupting in a blaze of fury but fizzling out without much weight to stand on. Daft Punk's disappointing 2005 LP Human After All was the final nail in the coffin, and while one-hit wonders continually spark up left and right, no one was able to revive the dead genre. One such group that arrived too little, too late was Justice, known primarily as being one such one-hit wonder with 2007's phenomenal 'D.A.N.C.E.' The track still stands atop their rather small canon, failing to be topped by anything off 2007's Cross, 2011's Audio, Video, Disco, or, now in 2016, Woman. It's that last affair though, that, while not as innovative, still manages to capture the duo lusting over music they continue to admire.

Even though the shtick, theoretically, should only work for an album, Justice, made up of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, can lay claim to building an aesthetic wholly their own. Sure, they borrow from Daft Punk here and there, but who doesn't? The grind and rubble that's left animates kitschy scenes long since abandoned, Disco and Dance just being the tip of the iceberg. Captured best on Cross, they also hold a firm grip on Stadium Rock through swooping declarations of drums and electric guitar, and a muse that finds comfort in Gothic stylings. None of that is lost on Woman. In fact, much of it is exposed, with the duo finding comfort in their narrow tastes. Unlike Cross, which supported delirious standouts like 'D.A.N.C.E.,' 'Tthhee Ppaarrttyy,' and 'DVNO' that kept things interesting, Woman streamlines their approach by pretending, for a moment, to be serious. The vocal performances are all standardized, no children's choirs or Uffie here, and the music follows the strict protocols they've set for themselves. This makes for a pleasing experience, albeit one that's not entirely memorable. Hits like 'Safe And Sound' or 'Pleasure' only excel thanks to their perfectionist state, with each and every note being hit exactly as the duo planned.

And while this makes for a strong appreciation of their primary influence, Disco, it also works against them, leaving much to be desired in the way of focal points. Their scope of genres all thrive on a commitment to the ear-worm. With Woman, Justice finds themselves trying too hard. We've almost hit the decade mark on Cross and yet on a moment's notice I can recite the hook of 'D.A.N.C.E.' without my brain having to process anything. Why? Because 'D.A.N.C.E.' is stupid, senseless fun. Woman needs that. The closest imitator is the only one following a pattern, and that's 'Love S.O.S.' with its repetitious finale. It's lovely, albeit a tad traditional. The others, like 'Fire' or 'Stop,' try to incite listener mimicking but can only hope to accomplish it in the short term. In other words, sure, I'll sing along because man is it groovy, but once the song's out of my mind, it doesn't have the 'it factor' to crawl back in. Although it's overproduced, 'Safe And Sound' comes the closest to being memorable, showcasing vocals that soar like something you'd hear from ABBA. This opening track is a mammoth, and one that forces you to admire it.

More can be said positively about the instrumental cuts though, as three of the four make up some of Woman's best material. Just like their vocal counterparts, cuts like 'Alakazam!' or 'Chorus' don't reinvent the Justice wheel, but they do flash ornate displays of power, madness, and majesty, all dressed up with a fancy, glitter-smothered bow. As opposed to rather forgettable vocal singles like 'Fire' or 'Randy,' these tracks feel comparable to Justice's days of yore, in that sheer, raw power guide the production. You can feel it in your bones as the hysteria of synths on 'Chorus' battle with the dueling choirs for some noisy harmony, or on 'Alakazam!' with melodies that orchestrate synthetic sounds as if they were human. The only one of these four that don't succeed is 'Heavy Metal,' and much of that can be attributed to its clear similarities to Daft Punk. The jump and jive doesn't sound like anything but redundant, even compared to the duo's older Daft Punk imitations like 'Newjack' or 'Helix.' Repetition is a fine line, and on 'Heavy Metal' the selection of guitars and synths come off as irritating, more than anything else.

The final silent track, and the one to close out the album, is 'Close Call,' a serene epilogue of sorts that intends to let you down safely after the wild ride. Even though some tantalizing drums, synths, and keyboard melodies weave their way in, 'Close Call' never feels hectic, manufactured, or overproduced. In fact, thanks to the strings towards the end, it comes off as one of the more organic works Justice has pulled off. A resounding, and essential, close after all things considered. With 'Close Call' in mind, Woman also takes on a generic Pop album approach, using a bell-shaped curve for its quality intake, with a necessary loop thrown midway in. For the most part, as you deviate outwards from that center point, the overall quality grows, with the beginning ('Safe And Sound'), middle ('Chorus'), and end ('Close Call') arguably being the best three here. This, thankfully, feels strongly in opposition to Audio, Video, Disco and it's chaotic display of pacing from front to back. It's safe to say Justice has improved on every facet from their 2011 LP. And while they often retrace old steps, disappointedly ignoring those that dared to leap to the side, the music presented on Woman aims to do nothing more than get heads bobbing and toes tapping.

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