Justice - Audio, Video, Disco
Mon 24th Oct, 2011 Music Reviewsin
The cover sleeve for the new Justice album folds out into a poster you can Blu-Tack to your wall. Against a black background glows a white cross, flanked on both sides by Marshall speakers and amps glinting like faraway office towers. Floating in front of the cross is an ‘80s-style chrome guitar. If you look closely enough you’ll see the faces of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay peering out from its buffed surface. As far as tableaux go, this poster says it all about Audio, Video, Disco.
‘Epic’ is one of dance music’s overcooked adjectives, but it’s a hard one to avoid here. Epic is the Justice way. This time, though, the epic ambitions aren’t quite the same as on †, an album with designs on bludgeoning club dancefloors. The epic-ness of Audio, Video, Disco is somewhat more Spinal Tap. As that fold-out poster implies, you’re still getting the brazen, muscular Justice hooks, but expect a bit of rock god bombast as well. Okay, maybe more than a bit.
Coming straight out of the gate is Horsepower, a track that makes like its title and gallops feverishly for three and a half minutes. It’s a bracing start if ever there was one; the Hammer Horror organ met by screeching guitars, before it all steam-rolls into the kind of sonic fist-pump Justice excels at. You’re certainly at attention by the time Civilisation takes over, and the bright, propulsive lead single seems very much at home here. As de Rosnay told Exclaim early on, the duo see the album as “daytime music”, and there’s a sunny glint to Ohio, which strips out the stadium-rock histrionics and gives Vincent Vendetta’s vocals plenty of room to breathe. The skittering beat does amp up after a couple of minutes, but we’re far from Stress.
By now you will have probably signed on or bailed out. The gleefully ridiculous 25-second lead-in to Canon conjures a Wicker Man style pastoral nightmare, before the cavalry comes storming in. The insistent synth line is pure momentum, bolstered by live drums and a no-messing attitude. Despite its much-noted debt to the Gorillaz’s Stylo, Canon is the album’s ballsy galvaniser, the one that instantly conjures a crowd losing its collective shit.
The stretch between Canon and Helix seems to be the sticking point for the acolytes whose hopes were pinned on † Part 2. It’s in this section that Justice indulges its love of ‘70s prog rock and “soft-textured” pop. Not all of it works. Brianvision is an indulgence with little to offer except the amusing image of a guitarist onstage noodling away under a single spotlight while lock-jawed Justice fans wait tetchily for the drop that never comes. Queen-inspired hand-claps and by-numbers guitar riffs meet a dreamy synth workout on Parade, but it doesn’t add up to a whole lot.
With New Lands we’re squarely in tribute act territory, but Justice’s paean to ‘80s glam-rock is so faithful that it’s hard to begrudge. It’s then out of the stadium and over to the club (at last, some might say) for the unabashed barn-stormer that is Helix. With its jolting vocals and tightly-wound builds, it was always going to be the remixers’ delight. While often the album trips on its kitsch, there’s something buoyant and natural about Helix. Original or ground-breaking it’s not, but it does the job.
Keep listening after album closer Audio, Video, Disco (serviceable, if forgettable) for the hidden five-minute instrumental jam that perhaps best captures Justice’s mind-set on this outing. It’s expansive and craftily powerful, while never really escaping the shadow of its influences.
Of course, this album doesn’t stand alone. It’s the starting point for a new-look Justice live show that lifts off in Australia over the New Year’s period. The duo may not write with the stage in mind, but this album is custom-built for vast festival fields. Slot some of these into a set-list alongside the likes of Waters Of Nazareth, Phantom and Genesis and the live show is sure to be a behemoth. Whether Audio, Video, Disco excels as an album is another question. You don’t have venture far to find vehement opinions on both sides, but for most the impression will be distinctly muddled.
If Justice was worried about how to follow †, they’ve kept it well concealed. That album was certainly a defining moment – a message delivered from on high that the French touch no longer had to be gentle. In 2007, it was belligerent, brash and capital B Big – everything the ‘minimal’ craze was not.
Almost five years on, Justice won’t be starting a revolution with Audio, Video, Disco, but that’s apparently cool with them. “It’s just a new album,” de Rosnay told Exclaim. “At the end, it’s just 40 or 50 minutes of music. Just an album, nothing less, nothing more. It’s made to entertain you. That’s what we did with this album, like we did the first album.” Spoken like a true rock & roller.
Audio, Video, Disco is out now through Warner Music.