Still crazy after all these years
I still can’t live without my radio. Like many fans, family and friends informed my first record purchase, but radio was my primary school for music education. Part of the initial appeal was its chaotic, crash course style: neighboring stations, a manual tuner and crossed frequencies meant a fused introduction to classical, metal, pop and banda. Admittedly, today Al Gore’s newfangled contraption provides the equivalent (and so much more!) with greater clarity and other amenities. And I have heard that “radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools.” However, radio has a quality akin to metropolitan life that I am fond of. The tactility of flipping/scanning stations resembles walking/driving/riding through neighborhoods; one moment, it’s a Little Italy, the next it’s a Chinatown. Then there is the imperfect melding of radio edits, commercial breaks and interrupted frequencies that mirrors the cacophony/symphony of booming car systems, overheard voices and general city noise; where Little Italy meets Chinatown—ciao mein, so to speak. Sure, the Internet offers me my space, but radio reminds me of shared space (yes, I am aware of the looming race issue and how stations have been increasingly segregated, but for this piece I am focusing on how sound can be manipulated and juxtaposed on radio).
Such is the all-consuming vision of Basement Jaxx on Crazy Itch Radio, the duo’s fourth studio album. Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe crowd their airspace by stacking muses (Balkan dance, anyone?), peers (Jaxx still keep a fetching guest list with heavyweights like Linda Lewis and pop star Robyn, but the bulk of the notable contributions come from their lesser known live band) and assorted odds and ends (notably banjos) atop each other. The result, in many ways, is a continuation of the group’s kitchen-sink style of flailing dance music. However, the album is also a reminder of radio as the original anything goes platform. The single “Hush Boy” blows the album open with a sugar-packed punch of disco pops, pop overtones, comic vocals and grimey verses. “Hey U” jacks up the traditional paso doble rhythm to a clubby clip before layering Robyn’s croon atop a chorus of drunken men. While both are breezy on the surface, be it for subject matter or poppy melody, they are also dense with ideas that jitter quickly from one to the next. Like a nervous listener station-surfing for the next big fix, Crazy Itch Radio is the end result, the space where successive sounds subconsciously collapse upon each other.
But what about the burning question: “Can I dance to it?” Frankly, it depends. Every quality that makes Crazy Itch Radio such a crazy, itchy radio can easily turn a dancer out as much as turn a dancer off. Depending on mood, the carny parade grime of “Run 4 Cover” can be kick in the door drama or sensory overload melodrama. “Smoke Bubbles” is jam-packed with sexy bong raps, Psycho references and whistling that can be intellectually profound, but physically confounding. Perhaps this much nervous ebullience is a bit much even for the artists, as they focus their ideas toward the album’s close. In this manner, the duo makes room for Linda Lewis’ lush reading of “Lights Go Down” by arranging a spare down-tempo track and end with the quietly meandering “U R On My Mind.” While the album holds solid ground when it settles on its ideas, it is also least distinct in these moments. Which makes sense: if Crazy Itch Radio is meant to embrace the meeting of cacophony and symphony, then its point is strongest when it goes for broke. Not a bad reminder: “You better listen to the radio.” At least once in a while.