Review: Junkie XL – Synthesized…

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It’s been four years since Mr. Tom Holkenborg graced us with the excellent Booming Back At You. In that time his harder edged style has gone from being the fringe to being the backbone of electro, EDM and dubstep artists. What always grabbed me with Junkie XL is his fearlessness to throw every idea into a big electro-cauldron and stir it up. 2003’s Radio JXL: A Broadcast From the Computer Hell Cabin is one of my favorite electronic dance albums ever made. So how does his latest slab measure up?
The album is bookended by lush meditative tracks. The opener, “Take Off On Molly’s E” is a stripped down almost new age version of his previous dance single “Molly’s E”. It’s a shame that the single was not included as well, but I see what he did here. The track is disarming before launching into the first track with a beat, “On The Dancefloor”. Despite the title, the track is more of a hip hop workout with a savvy underlying beat, giving way to a xylophone laced chorus. Next we step up the beat a notch with “Leave Behind Your Ego”, making use of a Timothy Leary spoken track. The song still has a moodiness and so far we haven’t really launched yet, while still taking in quite a nice groove. “Synthesized” snaps us out a dreamlike state with a big 80s production feel on top of a sexy head bobbing beat. The vocals, provided by Anneli Axon almost have an Abba feel to the production. The surprise of the album comes after, when Curt Smith of Tears For Fears lends his barely-aged vocal beauty to “When Is Enough Not Enough” that blends equal parts classic TFF and a smoothed out funky beat and synth line that borders on Knight Rider. This one is a clear winner. “Twilight Trippin” closes out the first half with a hard driving beat that feels part Giorgio Moroder, with a vocal snippet that sounds like it came from dancehall reggae.
For those playing along on vinyl, there is a clear split here moving to the second half. This is where the album catches fire. First we have “Love Machine”, a collaboration with Tommie Sunshine. Simple almost dopey lyrics that work perfectly with a chunky funk-rock beat. With more than a hint of Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock” in the riff. It continues almost seamlessly into the hottest jam on the album, “Gloria” featuring Datarock. It’s not a cover… sort of. The chorus is obviously informed by the classic tune of the same name by Them. It’s about 20% cover, and the rest is a tough, riffy ode to teenage lust. With all the sleaze one would expect. “Bonzai” follows, sounding like a lost New Order track at first, before turning into a cowbell and synth workout. “Klatshing!” hits hard and is one for the chop/cut/paste/ADD junkies. The fast attention grabbing transitions and breaks make this one a favorite of mine. “Kill the Band” is a bit more rock based at first, with a fat bass guitar line, and a break that can only be described as a machine gun solo. And rounding out the album “The Art Of Luxurious Intergalactic Time Travel” takes us back to the utopian soundtrack of the beginning. But it takes us on a trip to get there, sounding like Junkie XL learned a few things from Underworld. Very fitting ending.
Overall, this is a pretty satisfying album. It shows many of Holkenborg’s strengths as a musician. He is able to go from gorgeous to grimey and back, giving the album variety and balance. He’s learned a lot since the first time I heard “Underachievers” oddly out of place on an Ozzfest sampler cassette in 1998. This one gets the thumbs up.

“Gloria” (featuring Datarock)

“When Enough Is Not Enough” (featuring Curt Smith) (Audio only)

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