Do We Need Another Live Justice Album?
Justice are best consumed as a live act, but as a stand-alone piece, Woman Worldwide struggles to justify its own existence.
24 August 2018
Justice have always been inspired, but it's been awhile since they've sounded fresh. 2007's Cross didn't simply stand out because it saw two whizkids flex their understanding of how a dance album should be paced; it capitalized on a style that was very much peaking at the time. The Ed Banger-branded, disco-infused French house wave was understandably refreshing two years after Daft Punk's first dud album, and Justice rose above the clutter with a record that was packed to the brim with ideas. It was a joyride.
Cross is too good to be a relic, but Justice haven't exactly aged well. The two albums they've released since then have tried to capitalize on an arena-rock nostalgia wave that doesn't even really exist. Most importantly, though, those albums are not as fun. The sounds are tackier, the grooves are less natural, and, especially on 2016's Woman, the earth-shaking bass that once justified Justice's entire existence has been swapped out for breezy, vocal-driven soft funk. It's been a full decade since Cross, and that initial spark is getting harder and harder to find.
That being said, Justice are still technical wizards with an immaculate grasp on how this works, and if there's one place that shines through, it's onstage. Their live shows are not only visual extravaganzas but spectacles of musical curation, exhibits of how Justice can reimagine their own material and present it in its most riveting form. It sort of seems like this process is more laborious and important to Justice than their studio albums, and it makes sense that they would fully embrace their status as an upper-tier festival act. It's a skill worth capturing, which is probably why they've felt the need to release a live companion piece to every album they've made.
It's getting to the point where live albums are Justice's bread and butter. If they're going to recapture the spark of early Justice, it's probably going to be one one of these. Woman Worldwide is their third such album, and, unlike the title suggests, it is a less of a companion piece to Woman and more of a greatest-hits compilation, a reminder that Justice still have something to offer. It is not a live album per sé and more of a studio-polished version of their live show, which implies a commitment to making this the most digestible, rewarding way to listen to Justice.
However, it begs the question: how are we supposed to consume an album like this? Are we supposed to escape to a Justice concert, experiencing the sweat-soaked spectacle from the comfort of our own headphones? Are we supposed to take this in as a singular project, forgetting the fact that some of these songs were better off in their original forms? Or are we supposed to go "wow, Justice really do change up their songs live"? In the era of the stereotypical "push-play" live DJ facade, do Justice get a medal for trying?
As a stand-alone piece, Woman Worldwide struggles to justify its own existence. It's only a few strides away from 2013 live album Access All Areas, considering that only an album of material has been released since then. The shared songs- "Genesis", "D.A.N.C.E", "Stress"- are basically identical in premise. It was a good idea to recreate "D.A.N.C.E" as a slow-burning piano song in 2008, so why would they switch it up ten years down the line? The main difference here is the absence of your typical live album tropes, especially the applause and cheers of the audience. In that regard, Woman Worldwide feels more like a mix than a live album, and if the past live records felt like half of the Justice live experience, this feels like less that that.
To their credit, this is where Justice prosper now, and the songs from Woman that make it on here do so in their finest form. "Safe and Sound", which was always the highlight from Woman, gives this record a grand entrance, capitalizing on the unique strain of hype that surrounds any first drop of a house show. Songs like "Randy" and "Alakazam!" felt ugly and tacky on record, but are given a new purpose here, with pulsating distorted bass and an eager sense of rhythm eating up the streamlined blandness that once plagued the tracks.
However, for every underdeveloped idea that steps closer to its full potential, there are songs that feel like shadows of what they once were. When the vocal line of "DVNO" appears at the end of a medley, it's merely a wink to the glee that surrounded it when it first appeared on Cross. Other songs from their glory days appear here practically untouched. It can be a nostalgia trip, an exhibit of two men revelling in their accomplishments. Unfortunately, they've done it many times before, and at this point, it almost feels a bit too easy for them.
Tempo and pacing were part of what made Justice so exciting in the first place, so if this is how they are choosing to evolve now, I can't be mad at that. This does Justice far more... um.. justice than any of their studio albums from this decade do. However, apart from the reinvigorated songs from Woman, there's no urgency to any of the material here. It's cynical to say that this is an advertisement for the live show, and it's harsh to say that this undermines the experience of it. The stage is where Justice know they thrive now and they've always taken the platform very seriously, so if you're going to listen to this, why don't you just go see them? Their slightly out-of-vogue cadences will make much more sense than they do here.