The combination of dance music and pop is usually less than viable,
though perhaps catchy it lacks (good) dance music's drive on
the one hand and (good) pop music's universalist appeal on the other.
When someone says "dance pop," I generally think of someone like
Amber, or some crap Madonna remix, or worst of all
hi-NRG gym fare. I won't blame you for being skeptical about this
announcement, but Rooty is one of the best albums of the year
in both categories. Which makes it, for my money, one of the best
albums of the year, period.
What makes this even harder to believe, perhaps, is that
Rooty's not all that original; in fact, it's a pretty faithful
reprise of 1999's wildly successful Remedy. But where
Doddering sorry, Daft Punk fell into the common
sophomore snare of rehashing their debut sans the verve that
made the first album so exciting, Basement Jaxx (who, curiously,
haven't graced anywhere near the number of magazine covers their
cross-Chunnel-chums did only a few months ago; perhaps, after Air's
media ubiquity, merciful editors decided that the public had had
enough of dance-music duos?) approach their original formula with a
critical eye, and make it better.
It's a neat trick, especially given the obviousness of the trope:
take a monster hook, some fat disco flange, big-assed bass and plenty
of funky yodeling. It's no different from the formula that made
Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Bores such big hits, but something's
different this time around: Basement Jaxx have soul.
More than one critic has picked up on Rooty's debt to Prince,
and with good reason. Like Glasgow Underground disco-house maestro
Romanthony (who had the misfortune to guest on Daft Punk's single
"One More Time"), the Jaxx pay homage to the short and funky one with
equal parts admiration and parody. The title "SFM [Sexy Feline
Machine]" even sounds like a Prince track, but it shimmies and jerks
so sleazily, with a battery of funked-up voices shot into the mix
from all corners, that you know they mean it.
"SFM" also displays the Basement boys' rhythmic sophistication, their
beats shuddering as irregularly as Timbaland's. And yet it's not all
jiggy itch "Broken Dreams" is happy to drop a sunny '60s snare
rhythm, the kind you might expect to hear on a Nancy Sinatra record,
while their signature disco-house tracks like "Just One Kiss" and
"Romeo" are propelled by the force of slightly syncopated 4/4 beats.
Traditional, sure, but masterfully executed. And it's been years
since anyone's wielded a hard-rock break as successfully as "Where's
Your Head At."
Not to mention that they're fabulous songwriters. The prismatic
bridge of "Romeo" elevates the track from a feel-good (but vacuous)
romp to something sadder, more soulful, more real. These guys
know contrast: the aforementioned collage of vocals on "SFM" is
employed over and over; "Breakaway" uses at least four different
vocal perspectives, and quite likely more, until it sounds like a
world of characters (all half-cartoons, but all the funkier for it)
have invaded the song and set up camp for the duration of the party.
Who cares if they weren't invited? They're inviting you, aren't they?
I can't stress how goddamned fun the album is. I listened to
it for the first time at my desk at work, and it didn't work at all
the energy sounded forced, the vocals way too giddy; they
exacerbated my already raging refresh-rate headache. A week later,
when I drove six hours south to Santa Barbara, I tried again, and it
clicked: the beats seemed made for unspooling landscape and freeway
haze, the lyrics ("Just-one-kiss... and we'll be flying hiiiiiiigh")
fine-tuned for singing out the open window, like a shield against the
onrush of coastal California air.
Do I sound ecstatic? Ok, maybe I am: I wouldn't be at all surprised if Rooty has jacked my soul and turned me into a starry-eyed evangelist. My dance-pop-hating friends and family can try to deprogram me, if they see fit, but I'm warning them: I'm pressing play on this baby, and unless they're more staid than, say, Warren Christopher, they're gonna be sailing down the freeway with me, howling at high volume.