The success rate for post-reunion albums is so small that it’s no wonder that so many reformed bands pause before stepping foot in a studio. A reunion tour might be great for nostalgia (see the Pixies’ first reunion tour of the early ‘00s), but once a band gets behind the studio glass, they are doing nothing less than risking their legacy.
Take Jane’s Addiction. Before 2003, the band was elevated to an almost mythical status with their final “proper” album Ritual de lo Habitual. The album was considered by many to be one of the benchmark albums of the ‘90s. It seemed the band’s brilliance could only be captured for a brief time and then was doomed to burn itself out. But then came 2003’s Strays, and later The Great Escape Artist, and Jane’s Addiction went from being legendary to utterly human, just as capable of releasing a weak album as any other band.
While not reaching that level of cultural influence in the ‘90s, Luscious Jackson managed to accomplish a feat few artists and bands can claim: not have a single weak album in their mix. Their output ranged from essential (see In Search of Manny, Fever In Fever Out) to highly recommended (Natural Ingredients, Electric Honey).
Now, 15 years after their last album, Luscious Jackson returns after a crowdsourcing campaign. The band raised funds to record their new album Magic Hour in less than three days. The album goes easy on the ears (a beginning-to-end listen through takes as long as a 30-minute commute), and all the key elements of Luscious Jackson are there. Gabby Glaser and Jill Cunniff’s vocals still play off each other beautifully, and drummer Kate Schellenbach can still fill with the best of them. But there is something overly familiar with Magic Hour that sets in almost immediately.
The problems begin with the opening track. “You and Me” has a traditional “la-la-la” style chorus you’ve heard countess times before. Cunniff and Glaser’s vocals reinforce the fact that you’re listening to a Luscious Jackson song, but the opening track sounds like deep cut from previous albums. The second track “#1 Bum” is a tongue-in-cheek ode to the male posterior. The gender reversal (think a female Beasties version of “Tush”) is amusing, but the corny line “I got your back” falls flat.
Things quickly get better. The third track “Show Us What You Got,” jumps right out of the speakers and the guitar riff is instantly recognizable. The song also contains a lick-smacking good chorus.
The best parts of Magic Hour is when Luscious Jackson extend their view outside of the confines of a club dance floor. “We Go Back” finds a great balance between growing up without growing old. “We can’t go back but we can go on,” Cunniff sings. It’s a theme that many seasoned artists address, but Glasser’s guitar and Cunniff’s breezy vocals make that declaration sound fresh and vital.
If only there were more moments like that on Magic Hour. Almost all of the songs feel like they’re taking place within the confines of a dance floor - either meeting someone new or partying with old favorites. All of this taking place within three minutes and at a quick pace, designed to keep a listener’s ear. However, some of the best moments in Luscious Jackson’s catalog came when the band slowed things down and found a groove, particularly in songs like “Deep Shag” or the seven-minute slow burner “Take A Ride.” In the end, Magic Hour spends too much of its brief time telling listeners how great the party’s going to be. In Search of Manny and Natural Ingredients were the party.