Review Summary: Justice trade in the Ecstasy for a six-pack of Milwaukee's Best.
Certainly, there’s something to be said for stepping outside your comfort zone. The list of promotional tag lines for the much-anticipated new Justice album Audio, Video, Disco
is long, and not entirely without merit: “Playing by their own rules!”; “Breaking boundaries!”; “Escaping from the niche of electronic music!”; “Hey, it’s not Cross 2!” I made that last one up, but it’s perhaps the finest point of logic for Audio, Video, Disco’s
rather illogical artistic direction. Justice could have made anything after 2007’s commercial smash Cross
and it likely would have sold well, but it quickly became apparent that the French duo of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay didn’t want to make Cross 2
. That’s an admirable goal, and when “Civilization” aired in a fantastic A.D.I.D.A.S. commercial a few months back, their stadium ambitions seemed fairly well placed. The pair’s love for classic rock is well documented, both in their music and their penchant for living the clichéd rock star lifestyle, and an attempt to combine that trademark Ed Banger electro sound with whammy pedals and power chords should have been interesting, right? Unfortunately, there comes a point about a minute into Audio, Video, Disco
where you realize that Justice have already veered far off the well-worn track of tribute and straight into leather-chapped parody.
If there’s an analogy for Audio, Video, Disco
in recent music, Lil Wayne’s Rebirth
comes closest. Much as that ill-advised genre experiment took everything bad about contemporary rock ‘n roll and turned it into a sneering caricature of modern radio rock, Audio, Video, Disco
takes all the clichés of ‘70s arena rock and turns it into an unending sequence of bad decisions. “Horsepower” isn’t the epic, fist-pumping arena rock of the Who in their heyday or Bon Jovi’s best moments, as Augé and Rosnay would have you believe – it’s the epic, fist-pumping-while-laughing-at-them histrionics of Spinal Tap
and that Bon Jovi cover band that played at your uncle’s third wedding. Yet there’s hints of greatness here, of transforming the hard-edged electro aesthetic of Cross
into the grimy, chunky riffs of their idols. Mixing electro and rock doesn’t have to be such a Frankensteinian proposition – “Helix” effectively supplants the duo’s undeniable funk into an air guitar-worthy buildup worthy of a rave, and “Horsepower,” for all its posturing and unnecessary orchestral peacocking, is still pretty badass.
Sadly, too much of Audio, Video, Disco
either comes off as so totally inauthentic that it’s hard to take Justice’s worshipping of their idols as serious, or its themes just stay flat in neutral. “Brianvision” spends the entirety of its three minutes revolving around an electric guitar line that never goes anywhere, as if the band had just discovered the instrument and were content to see how many different times they could play the same motif. “Parade” apes the stomp of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” but climaxes with a wordless chorus that begs for lighters to be waved ineffectually in the air. The mindless strut of “Canon” gives more credence to the idea that Europe always absorbs the worst traits of American popular music, in this case disposable cock rock and a ridiculous keyboard solo that Peter Gabriel would blush at. “Newlands,” meanwhile, with its “Won’t Get Fooled Again” intro riff and shameless ripping from the Boston, Foreigner et al. playbook, simply seems to ensure that Justice would prefer to emulate the golden age of stadium rock in the same way that Jersey Shore
prefers to honor the Italian culture.
Justice would have you believe that they are pushing the boundaries of their genre, opening up the club floor to testosterone-fueled rock anthems and bringing back disco to the masses. Audio, Video, Disco
, however, is tilted far too heavily on the side of musty, herpes-infected rock tropes to really revolutionize anything, and the traces of Justice’s old sound are barely noticeable. In looking away from the production booth and electro in favor of live instruments and rock glory, Justice have ironically substituted artifice for authenticity and hackneyed stereotypes for genuine feeling. Cross
will never be considered the most original album, but its undeniable immediacy and energy were irrefutable. Audio, Video, Disco
has neither creativity nor moxie, except in the sense that Justice is damn determined to give homage to the worst excesses of macho rock posturing. For a band that predicated their success on being in touch with the newest trends, this is a death sentence.