It has been five years since Justice released their sophomore record, Audio, Video, Disco, a complex (and cheesy) experiment in which they fused their dance attitude with their passion(?) for middle-70’s progressive rock. The result was certainly interesting, and confirmed the ability of Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé as producers but, inevitably, the record lost the immediacy of its predecessor, the seminal †(also known as Cross), an electroclash masterpiece: grimy, aggressive and, above all, spontaneous.
Spontaneity was, in fact, what Audio, Video, Disco seemed to lack the most, but with Woman, their third record, the Parisian duo tried to get back to the roots and, at the same time, to create something entirely new. As Xavier stated in an interview for FACT Magazine, now they “ are more comfortable with not fighting what comes naturally. Before we might have thought ,‘we need to be smarter than this’ ”. From the first track of the record, “Safe And Sound”, which is also the first single they released, this sort of performance/production anxiety seems already to be nothing more than a bad memory. The song starts with an analog synth note that drag the listener into the atmosphere of a 70’s-80’s sci-fi movie, followed by an epic choir describing a night drive, and after a snap of fingers everything explodes in the funky slapped bass-line and the 70’s disco strings, and it’s hard not to dance.
At a first hearing, it’s easy to think it’s 2007 all over again and Justice are just trying to replicate their greatest hits, like “D.A.N.C.E.” and “Phantom Pt. II”, but a careful listening reveals that under the vintage feeling, the powerful, catchy bass-line, the choir and strings, recorded by the London Contemporary Orchestra, there is an accuracy on the production side that in † was totally absent (although was certainly part of its beauty). This particular cure for details, acquired in the making of Audio, Video, Disco, is unvaried during the whole record, never shredding its fluency. The progression to the second track, “Pleasure”, is as strong as smooth, and even if the slapped-bass is replaced with a picked-bass, the guitar, the piano, the choir, the voice of Morgan Phalen, the catchy clap of the drums in the refrain and and the synth solo keep it up with (almost) no problems.
Then “Alakazam !” drops. The third track of the album (and the third single released) is an instrumental continuous crescendo and a magical show of sounds and instruments, appearing and disappearing at the will of the two French magicians. It opens up with a “steaviewonderish” synth arpeggio and then a guitar, going trough an aggressive picked-bass, while the choir and the organ rise and fade like ghosts, and peaks up with an epic organ riff over a distorted bass line.
The vintage feeling is even stronger in “Fire”, the fourth track, and also the fourth single to be released. This time the synth opens up to a love, retrofuturistic, disco anthem, while the distorted bass, the guitar solo and the organ confirm that the rock attitude of Xavier and Gaspard is still strong, making the song sound powerful other than danceable. A rock attitude that becomes even stronger with the fifth track, “Stop”. The hard, slow drum seems to celebrate the 80’s rock while the picked-bass line and the disco choir in the refrain preserve the atmosphere of the previous tracks. And the Parisians producers keep on rocking trough “Chorus“, the sixth track, but things gets spacey in this aggressive seven minutes sci-fi instrumental, thanks to a sidereal synth that leads the song to an uncomfortably calm conclusion: a spectral choir and a grand piano. But this dreamy ( or nightmarish? ) atmosphere doesn’t last because the drum fills of “Randy“, the seventh track, and the second extract from the record, kicks in with a renewed energy. The voice of Morgan Phalen, once again, rides an essential, distorted bass-line, till the explosive refrain, where it mixes perfectly with a fragmentary organ and, in the end, the strings of the London Contemporary Orchestra.
But Xavier and Gaspard are not done yet, and before leading the record to its conclusion, they pay their respects to Andy Clarke, an English keyboard and synthesizer player, who played with Be-Bop Deluxe in the middle-70’s and with David Bowie for the recordings session of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) in 1980. “Heavy Metal“, the record’s tenth song, it’s practically a remix of Clarke’s “Element Of Risk”, which features in his first solo album, Communications. Just listening to it once it’s sufficient to understand how much this 1979 record influenced the whole Justice experience and Woman in particular. After this four minutes homage to a synthesizer maestro, the record announces its conclusion with “Love S.O.S.”, a song that seems made to end a Van Halen concert in a gigantic arena, with its omnipresent siren-style synth and its powerful but slow drum leading to a refrain that asks to be singed. The last song of the album is “Close Call“, a sort of closing title theme for this retrofuturistic disco Odyssey. It is calm and features in its good arrangement the three protagonist of the record (the choirs, the strings and synthesizers, once again ) sliding on a slow, essential drum, creating an atmosphere that is in some way martial.
Woman, is a very well produced record, coherent in its sound and atmosphere. Although on the lyrical side there is almost no consistency, and words seem to be chosen not for what they mean but for how they sound, as if they were just another musical instrument, it’s still a lot of fun to listen and dance to. Sure, the sounds Xavier and Gaspard used are not new at all, and the risk of doing a revival for the sake of the revival it’s always around the corner, but they used them in a way that made every track fresh, different and with so much passion and spontaneity that it’s hard to think that this new album is just a marketing operation. It’s like watching Susan Sarandon starring in the videoclip for the record fourth single, “Fire“. She’s certainly not young anymore but damn, does she look beautiful!
Full listen on Spotify below: