n Last Exit, the Junior Boys have done no less than singlehandedly re-imagined a future for white pop.
The Junior Boys' alchemy can be described in any number of ways—as Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours re-imagineered by peak-period Timbaland, as a Pro-Tooled-up, rhythmically-literate super-modern MOR—but one way of situating what they do is as an unlikely sequel to the two-step sound of years previous.
If the most-travelled route out of two-step has led to the dirty hyper-naturalism of Grime, the Junior Boy have taken the opposite direction. Their sound couldn’t be less grimy; it’s pristine, hygienic, mint fresh. If Grime is all bullish, in-your-face, ego-assertion, the Junior Boys are about ego dissolution, about doubt, disquiet and debilitation (and the ways in which these states can be enjoyable). Jeremy Greenspan’s vocals are the sound of lovely, lovelorn longing; not so much weak as weakened, desire-drained, so far from full-blooded as to be, in every positive way, anemic—bereft of all phallic certainty.
In place of Grime’s hyper-vigilant Street, the Junior Boys inhabit a woozy, half-awake, half-asleep driftspace in which melancholy and pleasure melt into one another. Their songs recall the early hours solitariness of the paintings of Edward Hopper, putting you in mind of the view through a rainswept windshield on a deserted road at midnight, or the distant will-o’-the-wisp dance of car headlights seen from a late-night hotel window.
Lazy listeners might hear the J-B’s as no more than a rehash of synthpop. But while it’s obvious that The Junior Boys have assimilated the sound of the late seventies and early eighties, they have foregone the cold, brittle austerity that was the trademark of Foxx and Tubeway Army; in mood if not in sound, in the way it envelops and enraptures you, Last Exit resembles MBV’s Loveless more than Numan’s Replicas. Of the first wave of synthpop, OMD are the group with which the Junior Boys have the most obvious affinity. Much of Last Exit is reminiscent of Architecture and Morality, especially the crystalline swoon of “Souvenir”. Most of all, though, the Junior Boys’ sound like a new take on blue-eyed soul: the r and b gone white-synthetic sound of Hall and Oates’ “No Can Do” or Blue Nile’s Hats.
There isn’t a single mis-step on Last Exit. The filler material that too often makes CDs unlistenable as albums is not indulged here. On the contrary, tracks like the instrumental “Neon Rider”, a lugubrious electro-lament, could afford to be longer. Still, no one understands more than the Junior Boys that less is more. They have made an art of deft seduction. The singles, previously available only on vinyl, are hits in an alternative universe and should be in this one. The oneiric “Birthday” aches with reproach; the two-step stutter of “High Come Down”, whose paradoxical sadness-into-joy title sums up the JB’s schtick in three words, boasts a hook that’s almost unbearably catchy. Elsewhere, there’s a whole disease vector’s worth of similarly infectious tunes.
Last Exit is a great album, there’s no doubt about that. The only question is how successful it will be. And that’s down to you.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK – JUNE 6 – JUNE 12, 2004
Reviewed by: Mark Fisher
Reviewed on: 2004-06-07
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