Radio JXL: A Broadcast From The Computer Hell Cabin
It’s a pleasant surprise to be able to say that the most effective part of this album is the songwriting.
As a mix, it’s a bit of a bust. Frankly, too many long stretches of generic techno make the listeners’ eyes glaze over to make the whole work as anything other than a soundtrack to driving or clubbing until dawn. But when Junkie XL (Tom Holkenburg) collaborates with vocalists who are genuine legends and pioneers, the results redound to both their benefit.
(It should also be said that not all the techno instrumentals are bad, in fact some of them are really quite good. It’s just that there’s a bit of over-reliance upon Our Good Friend The Incessant Beat’s big brother, Our Good Friend The Incessant Big Beat.)
To explain to you, though, what I mean by effective songwriting, let me play what may be Junkie XL’s highest card and greatest achievement: He made me like a song with a Robert Smith vocal.
You have to understand, man, for all my status as a ’80s guy, The Cure has always been one of my pet hates. Can’t say why, they just have. But “Perfect Blue Sky” (music by JXL, lyric by Smith) has such a becomingly moody guitar track that when Smith enters, he sounds a lot like that guy who used to annoy you at work but whom, when you see him years later in a different context, you feel a surprising amount of camaraderie for.
JXL brings out the best in his collaborators, many of whom, like Smith, are his idols and heroes. Take “Angels,” featuring a vocal and lyric by Gary Numan. This is the best thing I’ve heard Numan do since the glory days of “Are Friends Electric” and “Cars.” It’s even better in the “12 Inch Cut” included on disc two (the same goes for the charming, stylish, “Beauty Never Fades” featuring Saffron, of Republica).
Similarly, Dave Gahan’s vocal on “Reload” is terrific, but what’s even more fantastic is that the song (music by Holkenburg, lyric by Gahan) is better than anything on Depeche Mode’s last album (hear that, Martin Gore? That was a hook).
Not all the collaborations are problem-free. Chuck D. continues to prove to me that with without Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad production team, his raps get rusty. While it’s great to hear Solomon Burke get a feature, “Catch Up To My Step” isn’t exactly “Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms).” It isn’t even “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.” And the artists’ bio claims that Terry Hall’s vocal on “Never Alone” represent a return “to his ska roots for the first time since his all-conquering heyday with The Specials.” I refer whomever wrote that bio to Hall’s work with The Dub Pistols, who gave him a better song to sing with their bouncy, entrancing “Problem Is.”
Back to the good stuff. Another great surprise is “post-grunge” rocker Grant Nicholas’ emotional singing on “Broken.” Nicholas gives the song a contemplative vocal that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from the lead singer of Feeder.
Conclusion: There’s a great LP here, but it’s hidden somewhere in this two-disc set. But that is, after all, why God made CD remotes.
Junkie XL: http://www.radiojxl.com/