Justice – Woman / Ed Banger Records
Justice´s 2007 debut album, †, was expertly engineered for breakthrough success, delivering massive hooks with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. That said, they also had an impeccable sense of timing. Shortly after reigniting public interest in their catalog with the landmark Alive 2007 tour, Daft Punk—Justice’s direct antecedents—largely powered down until the release of 2013’s Random Access Memories. It’s difficult to overstate how much Justice benefitted from this timing, riding a renewed wave of interest in French house just as it was cresting, then stepping into a world hungry for Daft Punk as their closest analogues: two enigmatic French dudes forcing electro-disco through the sieve of hard rock dynamics. They certainly made the most of the opportunity on the live circuit, with ear-splitting arena tours that predicted the rise of pyrotechnic technicians like Skrillex and Deadmau5. Still, for all their success, Justice always felt like Daft Punk’s understudies: cruder, grimier, more willing to dredge rock’s cheesiest depths in search of a big hook.
That formula worked well in 2007 but now that Daft Punk is active and operating at pop’s highest echelons, does the world still need Justice? That’s the question the scruffy duo have been attempting to answer ever since. To their credit, they’ve hardly stood still: 2011’s Audio, Video, Disco found the act taking a hard left turn toward prog in order to distinguish themselves. Woman, their latest, marks yet another tonal shift away from the leather-clad sonics of their debut and toward the brighter sounds of pop and disco.
They’ve stored away the crates of vinyl once and for all, padding out their synthcraft with live instrumentation and vocalists. As with previous Justice albums, Woman is full of earnest vocals, rubber-band basslines and weepy strings, only this time everything sounds much warmer and looser. Intentional or not, it’s hard not to see the parallels to Random Access Memories’ pop classicism and militantly analog approach. Just as Daft Punk did, Justice attempt to envelop the sounds of disco and funk in a full on, unironic embrace. And while they remain more willing to violate the rules of good taste (as always, all the faders are at 10 and they continue cramming everything into the midrange), Woman still feels about as “electronic” as RAM does: it largely scans as AM pop, just with more modular synths.
Justice being Justice, they can’t resist trying to land a few big singles and these songs tend to be the least adventurous on the album. “Safe and Sound” and “Stop” both attempt to recreate the winning formula of “D.A.N.C.E.”: stargazing choirs, layers of synths, a generous helping of slap bass. At best though, these songs feel like paint-by-numbers versions of Justice’s early singles. In between these throwbacks, we get a lot of middle-of-the-road pop: generically funky melodies, cheesy guitar solos, forgettable vocals, lyrics that are downright embarrassing. It’s not quite offensive but that’s also kind of the problem—much of Woman sounds like music designed by committee, better suited to soundtrack a car commercial than to actively engage the listener (incidentally, Justice do have a pretty strong track record when it comes to landing commercial and video game placements).
There are a few moments on Woman where Justice break from the script and most of them are far more memorable than the rest of the record. “Chorus” opens up with drone-y blasts of static that pop up again in the track’s airy back half. “Heavy Metal” kicks off with an Iron Butterfly meets Van Halen organ solo before segueing into a disjointed chorus that recalls Ed Banger’s heyday. “Alakazam !” goes all in on the record’s guiding sound: it’s a straight up four-on-the-floor disco number grafted on to the sort of grungy synth bassline that these guys wield so well. If you’re going to embrace corniness, why not really go for it?
While it’s hard to fault them for wanting to explore new terrain, as with Audio, Video, Disco, Woman’s focus largely plays against the pair’s strengths as songwriters. There’s a restraint on display that, coming from Justice, feels more like a lack of commitment. Is Woman more subtle and loosely composed than their previous records? Sure. Are those qualities desirable in a Justice album? Perhaps not. Ever since their emergence, electronic traditionalists have been wringing their hands over these guys but until now there was at least one thing you could never accuse Justice of being: boring.
LABEL: Ed Banger Records
GENRE: Nu-disco, Electro, Funk
ORIGINAL RELEASED: 2016-11-18
TOTAL TRACKS: 10
1.”Safe and Sound” 5:45
2.”Pleasure” (featuring Morgan Phalen of Diamond Nights)4:15
3.”Alakazam !” 5:11
4.”Fire” (featuring M. Yaman)5:34
5.”Stop” (featuring Johnny Blake)4:57
7.”Randy” (featuring Morgan Phalen of Diamond Nights)6:38
8.”Heavy Metal” 4:30
9.”Love S.O.S.” (featuring Romuald)5:03
10.”Close Call” 5:08
Total playtime: 54:10