Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 88)
As the capstone to a legendary run that found London duo Basement Jaxx stripping house and latin music for parts and adding to their shanty town until it became a sprawling metropolis, The Singles
is perfect. As a substitute for owning their first three albums, The Singles
doesn’t work. That’s not the compilations fault, by its very nature as a singles comp it was going to miss the deep cuts that make their albums essential. Still, The Singles
serves two valuable purposes, its first disc is an excellent introduction for the newcomer while the second disc of b-sides and remixes works for those who own the albums but don’t feel like sorting through what's left.
If the first disc of The Singles
does have a weakness its that placing songs of this caliber back to back like this is certain to blow a valve in the brain of the uninitiated. “Red Alert”, “Romeo”, and “Good Luck” as the first three songs is a failure of sequencing no matter which way you slice it but I sure as hell can’t argue with the quality of that trio, arguably the best three songs in the entire Basement Jaxx catalog. Even the requisite new song “Oh My Gosh” totally pulls its weight coming after that crushing opening. From there, it’s pure bedlam. The explosive Mardi Gras of “Bingo Bango”, careening through the desert in “Rendez-Vu”, the Ecstasy turning evil on “Where’s Your Head At"”, Slarta John rattling the bolts off of his zepplin on “Jump ‘n’ Shout”, half of Chicago coming out of the closet at the same time on “Do Your Thing”, and “Fly Life” is the song you throw on once you’ve gotten your cocaine habit to a good place. It’s insane. Every track here is the among the best in its genre and a few rank among the best of all time and though taking them all on at once is overwhelming (seriously, just get the albums) it's still an unimpeachable run of music.
The second disc of The Singles
, thought, is what elevates the record into something essential. Collecting the best Jaxx b-sides and remixes, disc two hints at just how elastic these songs are. No matter how perfect they sound in their original incarnations, there’s new angles in these remixes that may not eclipse the originals but feel plenty refreshing to those of us who have played them to death. Mashing up “Romeo” with The Clash’s post-disco “The Magnificent Seven”, 2 Many DJ’s hide the seams of the pairing separately and even extend “Romeo”’s breakdown for maximum genius. “Jus 1 Kiss” is blended with The Isley Brother’s “That Lady” to turn the original’s private jet into a raucous party bus. Unfortunately the live version of “Good Luck” is unlistenable due to sheer envy at those who got to actually be there. If you can get past that somehow, it’s a cracking showcase of Lisa Keluke’s fearsome vocal presence and just how perfectly the Jaxx ported their songs to stage. But the greatest revelation is saved for the very end. The candy-dynamite sound of “Romeo” is given a total 180 flip for the bossa nova “Romeo (Acoustic Version)”, the results are nothing less than sublime. The refrain “Let it all go” takes on a new context over gentle shakers and muted trumpet, instead of the original’s plea for release Kele Le Roc sounds like it’s all gone and she’s just relaxing on a golden beach.
There’s an inherent sadness to The Singles
. Basement Jaxx would never be this good or, with “Oh My Gosh” as their last top 10 single to date, this big again. The duo composed of Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton had lots more great music to offer us but there’s just no way to top an opening run like this. That Basement Jaxx haven’t benefited from a tidal wave of critical reevaluation or a late career breakthrough the way Daft Punk has makes it even more unfortunate that their peaks are probably all behind them. Many, like myself, will hold a torch for this group’s comeback forever. But even if that never happens, they still gave us some of the greatest pop songs of all time. Hard to ask for more than that.