ollective jaws (okay, two) dropped at my workplace when it was revealed Basement Jaxx were free agents in the U.S. Could Astralwerks really be that stupid? How much coke did Radio 4 need? What sort of stygian rider clauses did the Air contract contain? Did Stormin' Norman have nekkid pitchers of their mama to get them to put out Palookaville?
Though they never moved Chems-at-their-height numbers, I had assumed the Jaxx would have been one of the label's best sellers. Yet Astralwerks never seemed to know how to market a studio duo with a revolving cast of singers and players to a personality-ravenous U.S. audience. To date, no Basement Jaxx album has sold 40k in the states. This can't be blamed entirely on the suits. Unlike in England and continental Europe, disco did die here, and it's been a long, estranged trip for dance acts ever since. We Americans generally like our dance music subsumed into a singer, even if that singer is Rick Astley.
From their inception, Basement Jaxx have been a house act reconciling with song, and it's been a rather protracted process. They toyed with Afro-Brazilian hoo-hah for a good few years before they started mashing up ragga, noise, punk, and R&B; in a Brixton sardine tin. Their 1999 debut Remedy seemed an unexpected explosion of fecundity from sorry old house music, but it was the result of five years in the lab. And it was only on 2003's Kish Kash that they finally, fully embraced verse/chorus/verse structures. It won them a Grammy, but it may have been too late. Even in England, dance music feels all but dead, as fragmented and niche-oriented as that late-80s moment before house. The choice the Jaxx now seem to face is between fully embracing pop (as producers, though Felix Buxton has a lovely singing voice), or retreating to the safety (and reduced vision) of dance. Pitchfork 9.5/10