I was thinking the other day about live albums, specifically those ones where crowd noise takes over: things, I guess, like Suicide’s “23 Minutes Over Brussels” and that “Black Sabbath Riot” record that came out a few years ago (was it something to do with Alec Empire? I can’t remember).
I was sent off on this trajectory by “A Cross The Universe” (see what they did there?), a live album by Justice recorded in Chicago and, I think, something to do with a DVD tour documentary as well. “A Cross The Universe” is not, obviously, an hour or so of crowd noise. But it does use the roars and screams as a constant and integral part of the mix.
I guess the premise behind this is to effectively recreate the excitement of a Justice live show: the intricate mixing of tracks, as themes loop in and out of one another, is one skill to show off, but a recording of a live, pre-programmed techno show is never going to be a showcase for virtuoso freestyling like, I don’t know, Neil Young‘s “Weld” or something.
Instead, “A Cross The Universe” documents the manipulative, bludgeoning brilliance of a dance act at the height of their powers. It’s about the scientific distribution of euphoric peak after peak after peak, a superbly crude way of ramping up excitement which is amped up further by all that ecstatic crowd noise. I seem to recall Fatboy Slim doing something similar with a live album of one of his Brighton Beach shows, but that didn’t work so well.
Maybe here it’s the adeptness of Justice’s mixing, and the way they skilfully deploy that crowd noise as a critical part of their overall sound design. It might not be as extreme as that “Black Sabbath Riot” record, where the noise is all there is, but it recognises how euphoria is an aesthetic tool as well as an emotional prompt.
Oh, and the tunes are great, too. Listening to “A Cross The Universe”, it’s amazing to think how Justice have only released one album thus far. This feels like a greatest hits, so strong are the anthems that they keep blasting out: “D.A.N.C.E”, “Phantom”, “DVNO”, “Waters Of Nazareth”, “Stress” and, of course, their Simian makeover, “We Are Your Friends” – one song that launched two significant careers.
“We Are Your Friends” becomes such an epic of crowd participation and tease here that it’s the only part of the album that becomes tricky to listen to – an irritating panto, really. But it’s endemic of Justice’s bombastic shamelessness that they end up hammering it together with the first of a series of what we reckon are thrash-era Metallica samples. It’s indicative too, maybe, of Justice’s stadium ambitions, their grandiose, calculated crassness, that it works perfectly.