It warms my heart that Internet music critics far and wide are washing their hands of Basement Jaxx just in time for the golden glow of the dubious single “Oh My Gosh” (a.k.a. worst of the “best of”) to turn understandably jaundiced. Better to reduce a major talent down to the size of one of the fleas that Ghetto Blaster dog on the cover of Crazy Itch Radio is apparently scratching away from his tweeter than allow another Human After All to happen, right? I mean, wow, Felix and Simon actually letting you hear some of their disco melodies instead of trying to stuff twice as many sci-fi F/X into the mix as they had on their last album. Obviously they’re just fatigued old men now trying to score a couple cheap pop hits and another gimme Grammy, right?
Armand Van Helden’s famous prescription for “fucking house music up the ass” apparently now means being nowhere near the vicinity of fucking asses, house-tinged or otherwise. The booty-happy Brixton B-boys are oblivious, but both Armand and the back-to-Moroder Madonna know a place where you can get away. It’s called electroclash, and vagina is what it’s for. In contrast, Crazy Itch Radio is hardly lacking in The Gay. It’s still recherché enough to use ‘80s boogie synthesizers, punch up their acid-funk basslines until they nearly drown out everything else, and risk expressing too much emotion (they’re human, after all).
Basement Jaxx may have shed the heady overdrive of Kish Kash, but the naked pop inclinations of their new album seem even more confident than all the frippery of yore. Nothing comes out of left field as violently as did “Jump N’ Shout,” “Get Me Off,” or “Lucky Star”—though the “eagh, eagh, eagh” introduction to “Run 4 Cover” comes close. I’ve always regarded the affinity for Jaxx’s brutal side to be a tad suspicious when held against the flawless, sequin-spangled beauty of “Rendez-Vu,” “Being With U,” “Just 1 Kiss,” and “Feels Like Home” or the unfussy, Bootsy-fied funk of “Red Alert,” “Breakaway,” and “Right Here’s the Spot,” and Crazy Itch Radio has stellar examples of both, including the bright, bouncy “Hush Boy” (with its Earth, Wind & Fire horn stabs and flexible tempo), the movie soundtrack-ready whoosh of “Lights Go Down,” and the no bullshit piano house chorus of “Everybody.”
They’re still experimenting with crazy genre fusions as well, they’re just not trying to tart them up with as much sonic tinsel as they’ll hold. “Take Me Back To Your House” puts country-fried banjos together with a tightly-packed disco pulse, tin-pan snare taps, and a vaguely Hassidic-sounding riff and it’s stunning. It’s as airy and cheery as Bob Sinclar’s ubiquitous “Love Generation,” but has an intense dramatic momentum that could never be used to sell Fila jerseys. Far be it from me to step away from my role as Slant‘s Chicken Little of the dance music world, but house is a fundamentally conservative genre, hedonism aside. So I can’t see any reason to disdain a solid collection of songs aggregated to bolster two or three hit singles simply because its artists aren’t bending backward to reinvent their form to better suit current trends. Crazy Itch Radio‘s not the Sign O’ The Times that Rooty fans have been waiting for, but it’s a more-than-serviceable Lovesexy.