Retro-raving nostalgia comp for the rocket salad set
There’s something not quite right about ‘Basement Jaxx: The Singles’. It’s not the unnerving resemblance its artwork bears to the month’s other high-profile coffee table release, Stereophonics’ ‘Language. Sex. Violence. Other?’. Nor is it the knowledge that Basement Jaxx have apparently had fifteen hits – anyone who can name more than four can earn big money as a ringer for the NME pub pop quiz team. It’s not even the music, although, that said, it quite often is the music.
Nope, ‘Basement Jaxx: The Singles’ just doesn’t feel quite right as an artefact, which is how all Best Ofs must be judged. In fact, it seems like a small betrayal of the very wonderful, transitory nature of dance music. No dance act should stick around long enough to merit a Best Of. In the time it takes to bang out ten singles, you ought to be onto your fifth incarnation – your fifteenth if you’re the Aphex Twin. In dance, the hits compilation is not an opportunity to gather together one’s A-grade material and rake in the dough. Instead it is an act of knowing self-desecration, an acknowledgement of the obsolescence of yesterday’s choons, in which one’s oeuvre is habitually beaten well and truly shitless by a battalion of remixers. And yet here are Basement Jaxx, offering up a straight-faced constellation of their radio mixes, just like any other common-or-garden pop group. Well, since it is presented to us in pop terms, so we must judge it in pop terms, and it comes up wanting.
The one you’ll know, ‘Where’s Your Head At’, was and is a horrible thing; a graceless, clod-hopping boozers’ anthem, the musical equivalent of a piss-poor comedian stumbling on a humorous catchphrase and basing an entire act around its lobotomised repetition. Where’s my head at? Trying to find relief in a packet of aspirin. The other one you’ll know, ‘Bingo Bango’, is no less irritating, though less brutish in its execution and more like the bothersome exhortations of an over-exuberant toddler; the vocal sample is ‘nagging’ like a grandmother disapproving of a new haircut and ‘catchy’ in that same ghastly way that any advert with Michael Winner in is memorable – just because it sticks in the head doesn’t make it good. The third one you’ll know, ‘Red Alert’, mind you, is fantastic. A ribald slab of disco insanity with a flatulent low end and all manner of idiot squiggles in the background that – a crucial point, this – will sound like all the fun of the fair when that third pill exerts its happy hold.
And this more or less represents the good-to-bad-ratio for the entire album. For every ‘Plug It In’, a terrifically ramshackle Prince-style funk workout that does as it pleases with bug-eyed glee, there’s a ‘Good Luck’ (a formless, overwrought meshing of poptronica and rock that is clearly a stab at Proper Songwriting) and a ‘Samba Magic’, which is samba by Ikea, with the parts all present and correct but all the flourish and fireworks of a Liberal Party conference. And for every sassy, jazzy, knockabout romp like ‘Do Your Thing’ – it’s almost ragtime, and you’ll need a living grandparent to tell you what that is – there’s a ‘Jump’n’Shout’, so perfunctory and cack-handed in its ragga stylings that it ought to be consigned to accompanying a Lilt advert for eternity.
And so we must conclude: they should have shunned vanity, called the remixers in and taken the beating. Because the abiding impression left by ‘The Singles’ is that they rather deserve it. Pete Cashmore