Symbols for names isn't just for The Artist Formerly Known As Prince anymore. †, or the album sometimes known as "Cross", was released in 2007 and encapsulates the glamorous, glitzy sound Justice has become well known for. This album has gained critical acclaim of biblical proportions, so let's see if it deserves the reputation.
The first track, aptly named Genesis, begins with overbearing horns blaring forebodingly. I can imagine this song being used in a cartoon during a scene introducing some terrible villain, or as Godzilla's big entrance track rife with destruction. This piece has a lot of attitude, with a clapping beat, sexy bass, and more traditional instruments like piano and horns. It's really the kind of sound that I expect from Justice, so it's a good track to set the mood for the rest of the album.
If Dracula needed a jam to get psyched up to hit the disco, I would recommend Let There Be Light. Maybe he would be leery of the title, but the pipe organ that wails through this whole track really gives it a gothic touch, and the drums give it so much energy. The first half of this track is very powerful and will definitely get you excited, but the second half takes on a happier, optimistic vibe, which is okay, but it kind of kills the mood. It's supposed to be a reference to the creation of light in genesis, and it certainly sounds like the sun pouring out after a storm clears up, but I enjoyed the stormy, darker beginning over the end.
D.A.N.C.E. is basically the Justice song. I love the vocals, I love the artificial aging of the sound, I love the synth, I love the violin, and I love the bass. I am so crazy over this song. It's an incredibly classic-sounding disco song that will definitely get you on the floor, and the music video is awesome, too! My only complaint is I may have spoiled it a bit by playing it too much, but whose fault is that? Mine, that's who.
Newjack is sort of silly. It has clips of cartoonish vocals shredded together as though someone put them in a blender so they were completely incomprehensible. There are also sounds like static and feedback that seem to be suggesting a media theme. It's possible that thing song is trying to point to something about the nature of media itself, a kind of pop-art sound collage that tries to get you to think beyond the work of art into the nature of art itself. To me, I think it is some comment on the chaos and frivolousness of new media. While I don't particularly enjoy the song aesthetically, it's very interesting intellectually.
Phantom is one of the more popular tracks on here, next to D.A.N.C.E., and understandably so, I know I love it. The mix of electric guitar, kicking beat, and organ-like synth make it a winner. It reminds me a great deal of Discovery-era Daft Punk, and that's a pretty strong compliment in my books! Phantom 2 continues with similar sounds plus a very dramatic and sassy violin. That violin is a total diva. That violin and I are sassy besties. We are hitting the club, so you better watch out. Unfortunately, there are lulls in the song (one in the middle and one at the end) that really kill the buzz. Just like in Let There be Light, Justice drops the ball on an awesome track by killing the conclusion. I can see why the first Phantom is more popular, but it's unfortunate.
Valentine is more chill track that doesn't really command your full attention like other songs on this album. Rather than dancing, I might put this track on to go for a walk with my thoughts, sit around and chill, or make loving googly eyes and my sweetie pie valentine. Yeah... come to think of it this track is a bit sugary. Finally, it winds up with an ending that comes off as...haunting? WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THESE ENDINGS, JUSTICE! STOP IT! I THINK I KNOW HOW TO FEEL AND THEN YOU MESS WITH MY FEELS!
...I just need a moment to compose myself...
I thought I would like Tthhee Ppaarrttyy, because c'mon it has a great title, but this was definitely low point of the album. Some Ke$ha/Nicki Minaj wannabe (it's actually fellow Ed Banger Records' staple, Uffie) is just rapping about her cliché party girl life and how amazingly awesome she is because she can party. Nothing is more of a party killer than listening to someone brag about what a partier they are. Put your money where your mouth is or go home. If I wanted to listen to the same-old-top-40-brush-my-teeth-with-a-bottle-of-Jack tropes, I would turn on MTV. But I'm not turning on MTV because I want to live, dammit... liiiiive! Oh, and I want to listen to nu-disco. Not nu-disco being used to frame this gross-pukey-clubber-puke-vomit.
DVNO left me utterly confused. On paper, this would be a track I like. It has nice instruments, a nice beat, the vocals are catchy, but it just makes me feel dizzy and overwhelmed. Is it because the singer's voice is too high? Is the music clashing with the vocals? It is because I can't parse out what I should be focusing on because there is too much going on? It feels like mixing plaid and polka dots, and I can't even think clearly while listening to this track.
The next track is—Oh my God... Why would anyone compose a terrifying, nerve-grating song like Stress? At least it shifts from just annoying noise to something resembling music, but that awful screeching never actually goes away, and it is a constant obstacle to enjoying this track. Maybe this is another track that is intellectually interesting rather than aesthetically pleasing, but wouldn't it be nice if we could aim for both?
Imagine, if you will, a giant cathedral with vaulted ceilings, incredible paintings and sculptures, and a congregation of little old ladies and gentlemen being lulled half to sleep by a long sermon. All of a sudden, Jesus Christ busts down the door with a leather jacket, shades, and an electric guitar and starts pouring out an amazing solo, blowing the toupees off all those present. The organist, moved by his wicked attitude and the Holy Spirit, decides to throw in some funky accompaniment, and suddenly the whole church is an awesome dance party. That would be so badass. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, that's what listening to Waters of Nazareth is like.
Finally, One Minute to Midnight. It begins with an awesome riff and gradually adds in a buzzing synth and some horn that might not quite be the best fit. I can imagine cruising down the streets late at night to this track, feeling pretty darn hip. It's a track that easily fades into the background and is more contemplative, but that makes it a good choice for wrapping the album up.
† is an album with a few real gems, but also a few stinkers. I was disappointed by the number of tracks that really threw me off, because a lot of Justice's work is just my style. Still, I'm glad I took the time to hear all of the album, because there are a few good pieces I never would have noticed if I hadn't taken the time to look more deeply.