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Thread: Review: Junkie XL - "Broadcast from the Computer Hell Cabin"

  1. #1


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    Default Review: Junkie XL - "Broadcast from the Computer Hell Cabin"

    In a fit of...something I wrote a review of the new Junkie XL album. I ddn't actually think that I didn't have anywhere to post it.

    So you're getting it, ready or not.

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    JunkieXL is one of those artists who's been around for a while, been respected for a while, but was always somewhat in the background. That all changed when his remix of Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation" became a worldwide #1. Leveraging this Fatboy Slim-ish stardom, "Radio Jxl: Broadcast from the Computer Hell Cabin" is able to enlist a veritable who's-who of crossover dancepop talent. Gary Numan, Dave Gahan, the late Peter Tosh, Chuck D, Saffron, and Robert Smith all make appearances, bringing a bewildering array of vocal styles to the album.

    Regrettably, this is also a concept album. While this work does manage to avoid the self-satisfaction and ponderousness that plagues many concept albums, there are elements of the work that are at best annoying at worst infuriating. The concept here is that this is a pirate radio station, broadcasting underground electronic music. Okay, so far not too bad. However, this is underscored by filler tracks like "Intro 3pm" (basically a minute of radio-tuning noises) and "JXL Radio technical Support." Then, all the songs tend to overlap or crossfade slightly. While this sounds acceptable in an age of DJ mix CDs, these are just radio-style cross-edits and don't contribute much to the flow the album. Sometimes the seem even more jarring than a track-break would.

    And then there's the station ID.

    Many, many of the songs begin with an electronically-modulated-deep-voice intoning "JUNKIE! X! L!" or "Radio JXL in the house!" or some such nonsense. Such shout-outs would be amusing once or twice, or put to best effect on the really cranking songs. But less thunderous tracks like "Don't Wake Up Policeman" and "Angels" do not benefit from this treatment. Worst is "Locked in combat, JunkieXL versus Pete Tosh!" It seems sort of disrespectful to count yourself as "locked in combat" with a dead reggae star.

    Despite that, there's a lot of good music here. Stylistically the album is nearly schizoid, leaping from dub to big beat to dark electro to straight-up dancepop. Saffron, formerly of Republica, does vocals on the opening track "Crushed", and it sounds pretty much as you'd expect. Thrashy electro-rock with Saffron's deeply british vocals. "Don't Wake Up Policeman" contains an unreleased performance by the late Peter Tosh, which Holkenborg has remixed and remodelled, adding dubby techno over the dubby reggae. It works to good effect, although anyone expecting a reggae classic will be rather confused. "Reload" is probably the big standout single from the disc. Dave Gahan's vocals are powerful and catchy, and while the lyrics aren't especially complex (or interesting), the vocals sound great with the music. But Depeche Mode this is not - the ravening hordes of DM fans snatching up this album for this track will probably decry the lack of Mode's signature lyrics and modulations. Taken on its own, it's a strong track with a hook-laden melody and is probably just as likely to find a home in the dance club as any one of dM's more recent efforts.

    "Angels (ft. Gary Numan)" sounds an awful lot like Gary Numan's recent work - dark layered vocals, dense soundscapes, and Gary singing with quasi-religious themes. It's fine, if you happen to like Gary Numan's recent works. "Perfect Blue Sky" is probably musically the most sophisticated on the album, and sadly it seems too short. It's too quiet a track to be a big single, but the mid-tempo beats and jangly guitar mesh extrememly well with Robert Smith's ever-mopey vocal delivery. It's not bombastic, it's not an instant dance classic, but following a lot of the "bigger" songs on the album, it's a nice counterpoint.

    We also get a very rhythmic, very old-skool hip-hop-sounding "Access to the Excess." Chuck D reaches back to give a very Afrika Bambaataa-ish performance, while Junkie XL provides some modern lo-fi beats and very retro effects. RnB legend Solomon Burke gives a blistering blues vocal on "Catch up to My Step."

    More Saffron, The Specials' Terry Hall, Grant Nicholas, and a number of R&B vocalists round out the album, which by this point has had so much going on it's nearly exhausting to continue listening. There's an awful lot to take in. This is probably the biggest weakness of the album - with so many vocalists, and so many different contributors, there's no signature JunkieXL style to really latch on to, and the album sounds rather disjointed as a result. Here the album's concept actually works - taken as a radio broadcast, these sorts of style switches wouldn't be out of place. There aren't any dud tracks on this album, although there are a few that really don't leave much of an impression at all ("Between these Walls" could have been produced by just about anyone on modern radio). The concept is hit-or-miss, but at the very least it's an ambitious album, and the standout performances by Dave Gahan, Robert Smith, and Peter Tosh really help buffer any concept-album pretensions.

    The second disc fares even better. Oh yes, it's a 2CD set. The first disc ("3pm") has all the vocal dance tracks. The second disc (subtitled "3am") is primarily instrumental, and of a much more laid-back aesthetic. Mostly sort of dubby trance, it's an engaging listen. It seems to benefit from the lack of guest vocalists (although Gary Numan does reappear on a remix of "Angels", one that's arguably superior to the 3pm cut) - more attention is focused on the melody and arrangement and not highlighting the superstar behind the mic. It's more propellant than ambient or, god help us, New Age, but overall it's much more relaxed than "3pm's" dance music, and is obviously aimed more towards the home listener instead of the dancefloor. The second disc really rounds out the album as a whole and helps push it beyond just a festival of guest-stars and club beats. Without the second disc, it would be overall a mediocre album with standout performances - the instrumentals help brings things together. It also solidifies the fact that JunkieXL is a musician, not just a guy who can attract a lot of superstars.

    Disc 1: 6
    Disc 2: 8
    Overall: 8
    Eric Oehler
    wonko@nulldevice.com
    www.nulldevice.com

  2. #2


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    Thanks for the review...was thinking about picking it up when i read some of the guest vocalists...will do so now...oh and by the way...i just (FINALLY i know) bought the null device cd at Best Buy! excellent!!!!!
    ...the revolution will be synthesized...

  3. #3


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    Cool! Where are you? Our BestBuy coverage is...sporadic, so it'd be interesting to know if it's ladned someplace other than the BestBuys in Lexington KY and Shaumburg IL.
    Eric Oehler
    wonko@nulldevice.com
    www.nulldevice.com

  4. #4
    ElectroGardener interface2x's Avatar
    Joined
    February 3rd, 2002
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    Huh, didn't even know to look for ND in Best Buy. I'll check out the Downers Grove, IL one.
    \"I saw weird stuff in that place last night. Weird, strange, sick, twisted, eerie, godless, evil stuff. And I want in.\"
    - Homer Simpson

  5. #5


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    If they'd have us, they'd also have the Azoic and others. NIlaihah got distro with Harvest, so Best Buys can get the discs.

    Unfortunately, the only ones I've managed to confirm having them are in like KY, CO, OK and WV. And West Viriginia isn't really a srtronghold of synthpop...
    Eric Oehler
    wonko@nulldevice.com
    www.nulldevice.com

  6. #6


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    I did get the Azoic cd there as well..I was shocked, but pretty cool to see....at a Best Buy in the Kansas City area....of course I would rather support indie stores, but I was in there buying new computer speakers and grabbed it when I saw it.....i'm hoping maybe by it being there, someone that hasn't heard of you guys might pick it up....can't hurt!!! anyway...again..the cd is excellent...it's funny, cuz my bro was with me when i picked it up and he laughed at how geeked i was that it was there....i told him that you posted on a board that i posted on as well and ever since then, he has been asking me everyday if i have told you yet that i found the cd at best buy....lol....he actually is digging the cd too and he's never been a big electronic music person...anyway...
    ...the revolution will be synthesized...

  7. #7


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    Hey, thanks! Cool that a non-synthhead is diggin it, too.
    Eric Oehler
    wonko@nulldevice.com
    www.nulldevice.com

  8. #8


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    you are very welcome..i think a lot has to do with the fact that the album has a lot of depth to it...i noticed that myself...it just seems like a nice mix of synth and almost emo (it's a bit more human than a lot of electronic based stuff i have heard lately)...anyway..enough butt kissing...i just really love the album....i've struck gold lately...finally got your album and the backlash cd.....you two are battling for air time in my stereo....anyway..this went from junkie xl to the null device appreciation thread.....lol
    ...the revolution will be synthesized...

  9. #9


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    Hee hee, Emo? I'll need to go buy some black-rimmed glasses and ironic tshirts now.

    Ooh the Backlash CD is damn cool. Liberation is my fav track, I think. They've got a new one coming out reasonably soon, too.
    Eric Oehler
    wonko@nulldevice.com
    www.nulldevice.com

  10. #10


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    LOL...emo was a bad choice of words....i knew it as soon as i posted it...i meant more along the lines of gene and the smiths....(and i don't mean due to the cover)...i'm kind of brain damaged today...so i'm not articulating too well....sorry if you thought i was comparing you to some whiney striped sweater band... (although i do love some early 90's emo)..anyway....i'm babbling again...i spend way too much time on here...
    ...the revolution will be synthesized...

  11. #11


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    It happens. Hey, I like Bright Eyes and some Dashboard Confessional, so I'll take it as a compliment.
    Eric Oehler
    wonko@nulldevice.com
    www.nulldevice.com

  12. #12


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    i guess i just meant the emotion and depth behind the music...lol.. and to think i'm a journalist...blah....
    ...the revolution will be synthesized...

  13. #13
    ElectroGardener conditioner's Avatar
    Joined
    October 1st, 2002
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    eMO suckS!!!!!!

  14. #14


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    a lot of newer emo does suck...but a lot of older bands that were deemed emo....fugazi, sunny day real estate, etc....FAR from suck.it's like any genre of music...has it's good and it's bad...
    ...the revolution will be synthesized...

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