May 03, 2004

Junkie XL "Radio JXL"

Amsterdam's Tom Holkenborg--better known in the dance world as Junkie XL--has been making underground dance music since the mid-90s. He's had some success over in Europe, but he did not have any American success until he released a remix of Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation" in 2002. Radio JXL: A Broadcast From the Computer Hell Cabin, a smash record last year in Europe and just now finding an American release, clearly shows why he's made a name for himself in Europe.

Disc one, entitled "3 PM," is actually quite an interesting concept. Roughly designed to be a 'radio broadcast', Holkenborg has made this little gimmick quite realistic, because each song has a different vocalist. While this idea might seem a bit far-fetched and a recipe for disaster (The Heads, anyone?), in Junkie XL's case, this approach works quite well. With the theme of the record being a radio broadcast, having different singers offers up a potential for serveral different styles of music, giving a realistic feel to the idea that you're listening to a radio broadcast.

The vocalists are what make this record a winner, though. You get rap from Public Enemy's Chuck D (whose "Access to the Excess" is argurably better than anything Public Enemy's done in years, by the way), you get house music from the excellent Terry Hall, and, surprisingly Peter Tosh, you get soulful R&B from Solomon Burke, you get rock from Elvis (a reprise of Junkie XL's breakout remix of "A Little Less Conversation") and dark new wave from Gary Numan, Dave Gahan and Robert Smith. All of these songs are excellent, and Holkenborg's pop sensibility is quite obvious. Highlights are definitely Terry Hall's "Never Alone" (why isn't he making more pop music?), the get-down gospel of "Catch Up to My Step" by Solomon Burke and the stunning House transformation of Peter Tosh's "Sleepy Policeman," transformed here into "Don't Wake Up Policeman."

Disc two, titled "3 AM," stands in stark contrast to the first. Instead of the pure-pop bliss found there, disc two is pure underground dance. The music is meant for dancing at 3 AM, period. Vocals are scare, and melody is replaced with relentless groove and beat. Just listening to the one-two punch of "Nudge" and "Red" and you'll think that you're in a club in Berlin or New York or LA and it's three hours too early in the morning. The pulsing rhythms will work into your soul and the groove will get you up and turned on and pumped in more ways than one, and no matter what time of day it is, one listen to 3 AM will turn your day into night and will make the atmosphere around you hot, heavy, lusty and reeking of rum.

Radio JXL: Broadcast From the Computer Hell Cabin is a quite accessable collection of straight-up pop and underground dance. Though much of this kind of music suffers from anonymity that comes from the sterile nature of dance music, Junkie XL's innovative use of guest vocalists makes for a diverse, interesting collection of pop songs that holds up quite well after repeated listens. Dance music might not be your thing, but the Radio JXL concept really works in this instance, and the diverse roster of vocalists makes you forget all about the fact that, yep, this is dance music.

--Joseph Kyle

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