Junkie XL’s previous album, A Broadcast From The Computer Hell Cabin, which I reviewed for Ink 19, was wonderful. Featuring guest vocals by Robert Smith and Dave Gahan, among others, that were better than anything they’d done in years, it also had surprisingly effective songwriting.
That’s where too many techno/club musicians go bust, but JXL, aka Tom Holkenborg, showed he had it in him to write more contemplative songs that went alongside Our Good Friend, The Incessant Big Beat.
The first and foremost problem with Today is that XL — which is supposed to stand for “expanding limits”– has limited himself to just one singer (and lyric co-writer), Nathan Mader.
Of course, that wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the singing were better. But Mader’s vocals are so unemotional, so too-cool-for-school and frankly blank, they make it very hard for the listener to care.
Even on the better songs in which Mader’s vocals and lyrics (co-written with Holkenborg’s longtime friend — I have no idea if that’s a euphemism — Lucas Banker), appear…
Well, “We Become One,” which is probably his best, is more a triumph of music and vocal production than a vocal or lyric feature. On “Drift Away,” you find yourself wishing he’d do just that.
The result is the flip side of the last record, on which the most effective songs were those with actual vocals and lyrics. Here the best are those that forgo most anything except Holkenborg’s instrumental tracks. The only exception to this being “Yesterdays.” Written, signifigantly, by XL with Banker alone; this is the best lyric on the album.
On the more atmospheric instrumental tracks, Junkie XL shows he’s still capable of rewarding my high opinion of his abilities. The becoming “Such A Tease,” is far and away the best feature for the moody guitar that fills the disc, with “Honey” another highlight.
I could only wish that tomorrow, he’ll be a little pickier in choosing his collaborators. Or just do even more of it on his own.
Ultra Records: www.ultrarecords.com