Basement Jaxx capped a run of three marvelously progressive and near-perfect albums with a singles compilation deserving of the stature shared by Pet Shop Boys' Discography, New Order's Substance, and the Smiths' Singles.
Where to go from there? Away with 1999, in with Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers and other expectedly unexpected inspirations. Out pops Crazy Itch Radio, a disc loosely wrapped around the concept of the duo running their own station. They could have just as easily sold this as an original cast recording to a nonexistent stage production. Then again, the music is so color-packed, so off-the-wall that it could also work as the soundtrack to Rat Fink renderings of scenes from a movie dreamed by Baz Luhrmann. It's too big to fit on a stage and in an orchestra pit that would have to accommodate the Jaxx, a very active horn section, the London Session Orchestra, a Russian accordionist, a pile of vocalists and MCs -- including Linda Lewis, Biz Markie, and Robyn, along with the relatively unknown likes of Vula Malinga (previously heard on the non-album single "Oh My Gosh"), Lady Marga, Martina Bang, Skilla, Younger Sensation & Charmzy -- and 30 kids from Malawi's Nanthomba Orphan School.
The album takes the form of a nearly linear narrative involving the ups and downs of an alcohol-fueled romance between a boy and a girl.
Given the assorted voices and the unflagging flow of recombinant sounds, it's easy to be thrown off this trail, but there is a definite method behind the pacing and sequencing, and the emphasis on songcraft and the making of a thematic whole is more than apparent.
The story begins with a dinner at an unfinished Mexican restaurant (the sparkling, hilarious, rush-inducing "Hush Boy") and moves to his place (the "Cotton Eye Joe"-destroying banjo-house jam "Take Me Back to Your House"). In "Hey U," the boy lowers the boom on the girl, tells her he'll "always be a travelin' man," and then declares on the following "On the Train," over shades of the Stray Cats' "Stray Cat Blues," that "mamma gave me dancing legs." During and after these events, there is some longing, a lot of heartache, a healthy amount of playground-style spite, and some resolution. The songs, when added up, don't amount to the heights of the previous albums. They don't pack the same immediate wallop. While they do benefit from repeated listens, that familiar urge to rewind and commit to memory isn't as powerful.
The Jaxx, however, are as adept as ever when it comes to unlikely fusions and unexpected twists that lord over anything else that could be termed left-field dance-pop.
At this point, it's impossible to imagine them topping themselves; an album that is merely deeply engaging and wildly entertaining cannot be considered a flop in any way. Next time out, they'd do well to further explore the direction taken by the unlisted track that closes the album. A sinuous slow jam not terribly unlike Remedy's "Being with U," its seductive simplicity is at odds with everything else in the program.
|Intro / Wil Malone||Basement Jaxx||0:37|
|Hush Boy||Basement Jaxx||3:59|
|Take Me Back to Your House / Martina Sorbara||Basement Jaxx||5:08|
|Hey U||Basement Jaxx||4:53|
|On the Train||Basement Jaxx||4:14|
|Run 4 Cover||Basement Jaxx||4:14|
|Smoke Bubbles||Basement Jaxx||4:19|
|Lights Go Down||Basement Jaxx||5:13|
|Intro (Reprise) / Wil Malone||Basement Jaxx||0:36|
|Everybody / Reena Bhardwaj||Basement Jaxx||5:53|
|Keep Keep On||Basement Jaxx||2:24|
|U R on My Mind||Basement Jaxx||8:11|