If I shouted ‘French house’ or ‘French dance music’ at you, nine times out of ten the first act that’ll pop into your head will be Daft Punk- which is completely understandable. French house’s second fiddles Justice will most likely account for the remaining 10%. And with Daft Punk ascending seamlessly into pop, most recently with production duties on The Weeknd’s latest album, the question that stubbornly presents itself is whether there’s a need for Justice anymore.
If their new album, Woman, is anything like their debut, †, then the answer is a resounding yes. With †, Justice offered up a greasier antithesis to the metallic sheen of Daft Punk’s motorcycle helmets-come-balaclavas. A resilience to conform to dance’s music’s well-worn tropes irritated electro purists because what we could count on from Justice was brutish unpredictability. Stuffing electro, disco and hard rock into a blender and leaving the lid off shouldn’t have worked but it did. Unfortunately with Woman, little of that recklessness remains, nearly a decade on from †.
For much of the album, Justice find themselves tracing over the blueprints of past successes, with disappointing results. The clamorous choir of the duo’s most famous track ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ is recycled on opening track ‘Safe and Sound’ and returns at the album’s midpoint on ‘Stop’. On ‘D.A.N.C.E.’, Justice were brash and confident, riding the crest of a garish sugar rush. On these obvious rehashes, the hooks are soggy and transparent, lacking intrusiveness and opting to idle away quietly in the background of a Hyundai commercial. Much of the problem with Woman is the length- even though the track list is only ten strong. Only three of the tracks are sub-five minutes and after being berated by a plethora of similarly grating solos and faux-funk swagger for 20 minutes, you tend to get lost in the music- and not in a good way.
That being said, Woman does have its moments of sizzling alt-dance clarity. ‘Randy’s’ tiptoeing disco straddles a perfect line between Justice’s reach for pop and the adventurousness of their early material. Even with its aggressive title, ‘Heavy Metal’ manages to successfully smooth the abrasiveness of † stalwarts ‘Phantom’ and ‘Waters of Nazareth’ and ‘Alakazam!’ packs the interchangeable layers in like sardines, with convulsing synth layers, menacing bass lines and a smattering of disco in the form of a relentless guitar riff.
Unlike the auteurism of Daft Punk, Justice’s pop sensibility leads them towards rewardingly crude and cheesy hooks. The cross section of hostility and shamelessness in pursuing this musical ideal is what makes Justice polarising and attractive in equal proportions. † fit that description, achieving freshness and exhilaration by the truck load but Woman feels too produced, too safe, airbrushed almost. As with every Justice album, the praise seems to come from the duo’s blind braveness in pushing the boundaries of their genre but on their latest release, they seem to be pandering towards their conservative critics rather than antagonising them.
Images courtesy of Spin and Bangin Beats