Sometimes, subverted expectations can be fun. Case in point: Justice, otherwise known as “that group that had that song” (“D.A.N.C.E.”, in case you were wondering) or perhaps “the band Daft Punk fans listen to between albums”, have returned with a sophomore set. Their fun, monolithic slabs of electronica sounded reasonably fresh on their debut, Cross, but the replay potential wore thin, and the prospect of a new record – especially in a week that sees a prolific release from fellow electronic luminaries M83 – seems like a rather indifferent one. After all, how many tricks could Justice possibly have up their sleeves?
Plenty, comes the surprising answer. Follow-up Audio, Video, Disco isn’t simply the same painting with different colors; rather, Justice have thrown out their palette altogether, instead opting to create a big, brutish stadium-rock album. Planting feet firmly in the electro and prog camps simultaneously has worked: it’s a work short on substance, but long on massive riffs and pure candy-coated excess. Crisp, pulverizing live drums; flurries of appealingly boneheaded guitar riffs; scores of noodling, proggy keyboard solos – Justice, tongue in cheek, keytar slung around neck, and devil horns thrust in the air, establish themselves not as Daft Punk also-rans, but as Muse compatriots, devoted to bringing old-fashioned excess and pomposity into the 21st century.
So we get things like opener “Horsepower”, which rides through the desert on the back of a cheetah, chased by flying saucers, propelled by thick, epic riffs. We get “Civilization”, whose Black Sabbath verses (complete with the stop-start riffs and and 4/4 ride cymbals of “War Pigs”) crash, gloriously, headlong into a larger-than-life barnburner of a chorus. We get “Ohio”, its opening multi-tracked harmonies sounding something like CSNY covering the bridge of Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” before something that sounds like a processed glockenspiel floats out of the either, furiously arpeggiating the entire way. We get “Brianvision”, which sounds like Brian May fronting the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, if the TSO were filtered through laptops. It’s all exciting, theatrical stuff, less suited for the dance floor than it is for a grand arena-rock concert or a laser light show – and, okay, sometimes a Ford commercial.
Justice still haven’t put together a perfect album; Audio, Video, Disco plays to their obvious love for this sort of proggy pomposity, and its best tracks beg the listener to stand up and twirl your cape when no one’s looking, but the record seems to overdose on its own silliness somewhere around the final third, using up so many grandiose ideas and large-scale musical themes that it flags noticeably in its coda. After the “We Will Rock You”-cribbed handclaps of “Parade” fade out – and fade back in again, and then fade out for good – AVD loses a ton of steam, the slight “Newlands” kicking off with a promising vintage AC/DC intro before, disappointingly, going nowhere and staying there. Exhausted of cool musical and vocal hooks and meaty riffs, the record devolves into electronica-by-numbers.
But no matter – for a generous portion of its runtime, Audio, Video, Disco remains both an intriguing examination of the boundaries of electro and a celebration of its excesses, assisted by heaping helpings of massive arena-indebted rawk. It’s just silly enough to work, and the result sounds like a flurry of high-hoisted lighters striking in unison.