Every now and then, a group will surprise everyone and produce a record with a sound unlike anything they’ve ever made before. Usually, boredom and the desire to defy expectation lead the groups to experiment vocally, lyrically or instrumentally, and they convey a completely new musical experience.
Unfortunately, Basement Jaxx is not one of these groups.
Judging from the strains of their latest full length, “Crazy Itch Radio,” the duo doesn’t seem to mind stereotypes and the niche they’ve fallen into. The record is everything one expects from a Jaxx effort: erratic beats, seemingly nonsensical lyrics, haphazard samplings, diverse influences and trippy album art (it’s a hologram!).
Out of Britain, Basement Jaxx is the production collaboration of Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton. The two are best known for their house singles and remix work completed throughout the 90s. “Crazy Itch Radio” is their fourth complete release, following three albums with amazing vision, style and urgency — and their weakest album to date. Nothing is particularly different about this record, and the song selection is a bit overwhelming, leaving the listener exhausted. Ratcliffe and Burton throw a lot our way on this disc, channeling operatic crescendos, gypsy swirls, soulful R&B and the most banal bubble-gum pop.
While the album’s title, “Crazy Itch Radio,” echoes the loose theme of running a fantasy radio station, many of the songs are more concerned with a turbulent relationship. We are presented with the good times (“Hush Boy” and “Take Me Back to Your House”) and, even more salacious and satisfying, the bad ones (“On the Train”).
The record begins with “Intro,” a whirling orchestral and vocal whoosh; you might feel as if you unknowingly walked into an opera house. This song sets a climatic and triumphant tone which is carried through the rest of the album. The energy continues with the aforementioned “Take Me Back to Your House,” a house dance track with the Basement Jaxx stamp of authenticity — incessant chants bouncing lightly on synthesized beats. Following in their vein is “Everbody,” a bizarre mix between Bollywood and Hollywood, chock full of the glitz and glamour of Tinsel Town with Indian instrumentals thrown in.
The Jaxx also weave several musical respites throughout the otherwise dynamic numbers, and these, on the whole, are the album’s strongest, though least characteristic. “On the Train” is “Radio’s” most soulful as it tells the heart-aching story of the boy leaving the girl because his “Momma gave [him] dancing legs.” But it’s still Basement Jaxx, so don’t expect anything wildly emotional or plaintive, just a toned-down version of their spasmodic electronica. Another pause in the sonic rollercoaster is “Smoke Bubbles.” Featuring a smooth alto croon draped over brass and a Latin infusion, this track has the slinky feel of lounge music without any of its drippy or sleazy baggage.
But even these are not outstanding. This new Jaxx sound is slower, less punchy and a bit flatter. That’s not to say that it isn’t fun — it definitely is. It’s impossible for Ratcliffe and Buxton to create music that doesn’t get you going, but it may take a little longer this time around. Maybe their latest is only passable considering the tremendous success of their first three records and the way each achieved giddy pop. Despite this, “Crazy Itch Radio” is proof of Basement Jaxx’s knack for mixing and mashing the most seemingly disparate musical genres in a way that simply makes sense. This album may be largely forgettable, but Basement Jaxx will always possess a monstrous personality that jumps out from the speakers and onto the dance floor.