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Justice - Woman Worldwide (Album Review)

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

It's hard to shake the feeling Justice have become victims of their own success. The French house duo's debut '†' felt perfectly timed when it dropped back in 2007, its combination of fist-pumping hooks and chunky synth lines announcing them as natural heirs to Daft Punk's throne. 

Producers Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay shared their Parisian heroes' goal of taking electronic dance music from clubs to arenas, as reflected in their drop-heavy structures, heavy metal-inspired distortion and striking neon cross aesthetic. This same maximalist philosophy proved heavily influential on the dubstep artists that followed.

Instead of taking a step back, Justice followed up by becoming even more indulgent on 'Audio, Video, Disco', a glitzy ‘70s prog pastiche that brought new meaning to the word overkill.

Where Daft Punk at least attempted to reinvent themselves with the disco-inspired 'Random Access Memories', Justice have frequently been unable to change gear, reusing well-worn formulas with the hope of discovering inspiration. 'Woman', the duo's most recent album, incorporated new psychedelic influences but suffered from the same overproduction.

So, why is all this context necessary? Because the duo don't seem to have learned from any of it on 'Woman Worldwide', which fuses and re-imagines tracks from their last record alongside a few better known singles.

It's marketed and sequenced as a live album – which makes sense given its mashup format and huge 90 minute runtime – but the tracks are completely recorded in the studio as opposed to a specific show. It's an odd choice: the lack of diegetic elements mean crescendos tend to feel drawn out rather than tension-building, and there's nothing cathartic or exhilarating about two DJs tailoring build-ups and climaxes to non-existent crowd reaction.

A handful of the tracks do improve on their 2016 counterparts: Safe and Sound, that album's best moment, keeps its soaring ABBA-esque vocal harmonies but distorts its disco touchstones with swirling new synth sounds and a crushing bassline. Alakazam! and Fire are also transformed into something more cinematic with dynamic rhythm changes and chopped up vocals. But others, such as Stop, Randy and Love S.O.S., feel  unchanged to the point where they might as well have been left off the track list.

At first glance, a record like this makes more sense for Justice more than most artists. Their debut was so captivating precisely because it sought to take the listener on a journey by introducing and reintroducing different themes and motifs in diverse and exciting ways.

Classic singles like D.A.N.C.E. and We Are Your Friends, driven by hooks and mini-samples, retain their merits here despite being transplanted onto overtly rave-oriented templates. However, while the record's tracks flow together seamlessly, its best moments feel all too fleeting. Many live albums, particularly by electronic acts, are affected by noisy, overbearing crowds distracting from what the artist is trying to achieve. In the case of 'Woman Worldwide', maybe that's exactly what's needed.  

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