Review: Justice - Audio, Video, Disco

Haven’t we all asked ourselves at times what the world would be like if Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend had been born 35 years later, in France?  No?  Well, if we had asked that question, Justice’s sophomore full-length studio album, Audio, Video, Disco might have provided some insights as to the answer.

After the huge success of Justice’s first album, 2007’s Cross, and their highly successful world tour and various massive remixes that followed, many of us were ready to declare Justice the heirs apparent to the Daft Punk lords-of-house-music throne (that is, of course, if it had ever appeared that Daft Punk would be in need of a successor... which last year’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack clearly disproved).  In this context, it would have been forgivable -- indeed, almost expected -- if Justice fell a bit short on their second LP.

Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.

More than four years after the release of Cross, if Audio, Video, Disco teaches us anything it’s that Justice is not particularly interested in being any kind of house producers, the best or otherwise.  Instead, they decided they were going to make one of the best experimental rock records of 2011, merci beaucoup.

Mixing guitar-driven power-rock and relatively lightly processed vocals with their usual array of synths, programmed rhythms, and effects, Audio, Video, Disco is a monumental step up in maturity and depth from Cross.  If it has a weakness, it is that it takes too long to get to the point.  (Okay, the last track, the title single, sort of falls flat too... but let's move on.)  The first three songs are almost like transitional tracks, helping the listener bridge the gap between the hard-edged electro house of Cross and the sometimes psychedelic, sometimes beautiful prog rock of the new record.  While these early tracks all show a complexity and fullness that exceeds what we heard in Cross, it is not until “Canon” that we really realize that something different is happening here, and that it is pretty cool.

At a time when every new indie rock band is borrowing more and more from the technologies, rhythms, and song structures of dance, Justice comes with an album that goes beyond wearing its rock influences on its sleeves, and instead says, “Eff it, hand me that guitar... and turn on the lava lamp.”  

There is no lack of irony in Justice, previously dance music's hottest new thing, releasing an album so clearly referenial of rock from the last century.  They embrace this contrast.  In naming a track "Canon" that draws from openly from classic rock and eschews the disco, soul, and Latin orthodoxy typically seen as driving electronic dance music, Justice lets the listener know that they are intentionally challenging expectations and exploring new influences.  Similarly, naming a track "New Lands" that almost resembles a Who cover done entirely using MIDI instruments, Justice attempts to give new expression to the cliche "what was old is new again.

This is not an electro-house record.  Honestly, there is only about one and a half tracks that should even be classified as house.  Some fans of Justice's previous upbeat dancefloor tracks like D.A.N.C.E. are bound to be disappointed.  There is no sequel to that song here.  I'm sure Justice realizes this too.  But with the step they took in this album, they're likely to pick up a lot more people than they lost.