The Big Beat scene of the mid to late Nineties seems to have collapsed entirely; The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim have apparently lost their respective muses, Moby has gone ambient, Daft Punk is nowhere to be found, and The Prodigy's latest is... well, debatable (I loved it, but sadly my opinion isn't shared by many). That more or less leaves Basement Jaxx, who definitely do not disappoint with their latest, Scars.
The first thing you might notice about their latest opus is the abundance of guest appearances; twelve out of thirteen tracks have at least one. The only thing more remarkable than the array of musicians assembled, however, is how well they are integrated into the album. Each track is masterfully manipulated by producer extraordinaires Felix Burton and Simon Ratcliffe to suit the guest; Santigold's Saga comes with a healthy dose of the dance hall inflected alternative she has become popular for, all the while maintaining their own house-y vibe, and with a great, upbeat chorus. Scars, the opening track, begins with an automated voice, not too dissimilar to the one in Daft Punk's Robot Rock, and quickly morphs into a hip-hop informed beat that Timbaland himself would kill for. Kelis, Meleka, and rapper Chipmunk sound completely comfortable in the setting, and at no point does it sound like anything but Basement Jaxx. Eli "Paperboy" Reed's collaboration, She's No Good, sounds like Jailhouse Rock through an ecstasy addled Paula Abdul prism, while the lovely A Possibility, with prolific singer/songwriter Amp Fiddler, comes across as a soulful, yet dance-pop smart reworking of Santo & Johnny's Sleep Walk. The real strength of Scars is that such sheer eclecticism, enhanced by the diverse cast of supporting players, sounds so effortlessly cohesive.
The real winner here though is the brilliant Raindrops, the first single released back in June. Burton and Ratcliffe masterfully blend psychedelia, house, and disco, all with a touch of eastern flair and a soaring, almost giddy chorus. The second single, Feelings Gone, is at no loss for energy either; granted, it can sound a bit generic Abercrombie & Fitch playlist at times, but Sam Sparro's magnificent vocals contribute quite a punch, not to mention that the song is just so damn catchy.
The guest appearances are not all payoffs, however - while Yoko Ono's track Day of the Sunflowers (We March On) is certainly not at a loss for a steady beat and a few decent hooks, she was a bizarre choice for a guest vocalist, and whoever's idea it was for her orgasmic turn throughout the second half...
Also worthy of note are Lightspeed Champion's My Turn and newcomer Paloma Faith's What's a Girl to Do? The former's wonderful blend of melancholy and danceability produces a sublime tune, the occasional crack in the vocals withstanding. The latter, in its inspired horn-led melody, showcases everything that's right about this album; fun, catchy, and sure to keep the dancefloor going.
Overall, the album's flaws are rather minor; a mistep here and there in the songwriting, and a somewhat underwhelming flow (a big drawback that tends to accompany a set this versatile), but that only prevents Scars from being a masterpiece. It's no Rooty, Remedy, or Kish Kash, but as a solid dance album, Scars unquestionably hits the mark.