Imagine a storm of disco, Latin and techno swirled together. Add hip hop and jazz to the mix. Throw in a drop of classical. Basement Jaxx’s latest album, Crazy Itch Radio, has the stylings of an upbeat, lighthearted-yet-sensual dance party and follows a long list of hit recordings by the group, including 1995’s “Samba Magic,” and 2001’s “Where’s Your Head At.” It’s never their albums that grab attention. Even five albums and seven years in, Basement Jaxx runs a simple game-plan: singles first, album design second.
On Crazy Itch Radio the orchestral and techno combo fit together with surprising comfort. The party begins with choral vocals over a solemn string-heavy intro, followed by the Bee Gees-influenced “Hush Boy.” The lyrics describe a date at a Mexican restaurant – complete with the requisite fajitas and frozen margaritas – as proud, brassy horns blaze along with well-executed techno beats. As a theme, the song is reflective of the rest of the album: giddy little games of love dominate Basement Jaxx’s latest effort.
“Hey U” successfully adds jazz elements to the mix. “On the Train” is a soulful number that rides its R&B male vocals: “City got the best of me, caught up so tight, there’s no air to breath / God, he been testing me, heat beatin’ down, I just need a cool breeze.”
“Run 4 Cover” flows like the high-energy chants of a British Gwen Stefani, with its upbeat grooves. An interlude of laughs bridges into “Smoke Bubbles” with more somber – yet still grindingly light hearted – female vocals: “I thought I was in love with you / thought together we’d find some true / never seemed at all logical / but maybe we were living in smoke bubbles.”
Even for postmodern dance music, our generation’s favorite spot for cyclic drone, there is noticeable repetition in many of the songs. Yet it’s Basement Jaxx’s manipulation of this repetition – twirling chunks of Moroccan horns and elephantine kickdrums cycled through again and again – that keep them fun.
They find a rich pop vein and suck it dry.
A mellower track on the album, “Lights Go Down,” is a chilled-out venture, but the party erupts again in an abundance of classic high-energy club music with “Everybody.”
In fact, in a sea of one-off singles bands and trumped up pop mongers who wither after one fizzy, fun album, Basement Jaxx has suddenly become the grey lady of world-wide pop. They simply stuff their albums with club hits, slow-burning bedroom jams and unexpected guest spots. Album after album they make hits and ride off into the sunset.
Radio‘s particular combo of hip hop and house plays better than some of the music featured in dance clubs, likely because the two are created together, as opposed to dubbed later on. Surely not everybody who’s said “techno sucks” has heard Basement Jaxx.
Star Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Crazy Itch Radio