Return to Form or Retro Rehash? A Review of “Audio, Video, Disco” by Justice

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7 nov 2011, 23:37



Four years is a long time in the recording industry. In four years, The Who had gone from catchy R&B inspired singles to a dynamic and elaborate rock opera. In four years, Led Zeppelin had all but perfected their style of straight-on, blues-tinged hard rock on four albums – and Houses of the Holy. And in four years, the French house heroes of 2007 who brought us the critically lauded and incendiary masterwork “Cross” have broken their silence at long last, only to borrow shamelessly from the aforementioned artists and more in a wishy-washy collection of cuts dubbed “Audio, Video, Disco”.

In a dramatic shift in sound and style from their dark and aggressive debut album, AVD sees Justice experiment with the bombastic sound of 70s arena rock, bringing heavy, riffing guitars and spacey synths to the forefront. Now, it’s worth noting that the album had been prefaced with the disclaimer that this wouldn’t be a return to the aggressive sound of Cross, instead opting for a more “daytime” sound, to contrast with the night vibe of the group’s debut. Such a dramatic change in style alone merits some commendation, but unfortunately, this is where the positives end. While the idea of combining such radically different sounds is a novel one, in the end, this collection lacks the cohesive vision seen on their last effort, and we soon have to ask whether Justice have already begun to go the way of the hard rock dinosaurs they so love to emulate here.

Surprisingly enough, the album’s biggest problem doesn’t lie in its desire to take big risks, but in its inability to take any whatsoever. The album opens with the rousing “Horsepower”, where the focus on the stylistic changes has already become apparent. The guitars are what stand out the most at first, and the new sound is intensified as we’re led into “Civilization”, the album’s lead single. Ali Love’s vocal here is nothing short of explosive, and the track showcases the perfect synthesis of electro energy and the driving hard rock rhythm. Problem is, as the album drones on, we find that few of the other tracks here can replicate the same feeling, and the album fails to achieve any sense of momentum to keep the listener excited – or even intrigued. “Ohio” is a quieter, curious instrumental marred by a repetitive one-line vocal, which certainly doesn’t need to carry on nearly as long as it does. “Canon” while somewhat of a technical mess, does have a drive to it that carries the album forward, but herein lies a major problem with AVD as a whole: the entire record is just that, a buildup to a climax that’s never reached.

Tracks meander on around the same melodies and beats, as if the group is simply killing time before sending us into another bombardment of arena rock clichés. Nothing is sacred and rarely does Justice deviate from the formula, especially in the last half of the album, with the notable exception of Helix. Coming in at 10 on the album, however, the energetic and danceable disco-flavored tune is too little and too late, and we’ve sent off with a title track that feels unfinished – a toned down end that closes things off not with a massive display of power and technical prowess, but only a half-handed release that feels more forced than anything. It’s certainly feels more alive and inspired than much of the rest of AVD’s second side, but it comes to an abrupt end and leaves you wanting more.

Fans who have been clamoring four years for a “Cross II” are undoubtedly in for a surprise, if not an outright disappointment. As for those in the Justice camp who have been waiting for another innovative record that dares to break the mold set by French house demigods Daft Punk? Well, they may just end up feeling underwhelmed. For all AVD does right, it gets too comfortable in its groove for its own good, and fails to push any new buttons, instead opting to dust off old ones and poke at them a bit before pulling it all out from under the listener, almost as if to say “hey, don’t say we never tried anything new”. They did, and that leaves “Audio, Video, Disco” worth a listen, but a novel concept does not a graceful execution make. Final verdict: 5.5 out of 10. Choice tracks: Civilization, Canon, Helix

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