For over ten years, Netherlands-based electronica/big beat musician/producer Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) has been making a name for himself as a genre-crossing artist, often mixing dance music with rock elements, starting with 1997’s Saturday Teenage Kick, which contained the hit electronic rocker “Billy Club.” Not quite as well-known as Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers, or American artists like BT and Crystal Method, Junkie XL is mostly famous as the “mastermind” behind the #1 hit remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” (2002). He now has five records to his name, the latest being Booming Back At You (out now on the Artwerk label).
Leadoff track “Booming Right At You” starts things off on a mixed note, as the lyrics (by Tommy Vext) get a little too repetitive, while JXL does an admirable job of modernizing ‘80s-style synths and working in a sample of a song (“DBC Let The Music Play”) from Stetasonic’s twenty-year-old classic and groundbreaking rap LP In Full Gear.
On JXL’s cover of the Siouxsie and the Banshees goth-pop classic “Cities In Dust,” this otherwise superb dance-rock version has guest singer Lauren Rocket singing an ill-considered exclamatory “Yeah” after the chorus, “All your cities lie in dust.” If anything, she should be singing and emphatic “NO,” as the song is about the ancient Roman city of Pompeii being destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Musically, it’s nothing like the original, but the tune’s breakdown half-way through features keys/synths that feel familiar.
“You Make Me Feel So Good” has videogame-ish sounds, which are complimented by a seductive, New York City-sounding female’s sampled vocal that every now and then references the track’s title: “You make me feel so good.” It’s an OK tune – more like good background music. Similar Nintendo-like melodies carry the progressive dance-rocker “Stratosphere” as well.
The dance-lounge number “Mad Pursuit” is another highlight, with it’s finger-snapping beats and airy, tremolo-aided guitars, as is the dirty, heavy and kick-ass big-beats of “More,” where Rocket emphatically (and weirdly, unless purposely continuing the videogame theme) refrains: “Rock more/roll more/fuck more/pac-man is loving it.”
Elsewhere, there is a little more diversity to the record, with final cut “Not Enough,” as its low-key vocals and bright keyboard work make the track reminiscent of New Order. But the record has more of those dance floor-ready videogame rave-ups like “No Way,” another Lauren Rocket-sung track; it is a bit overproduced, as her urgent, high-pitched vocals didn’t need to be doubled.
Overall, Booming Back At You is a mixed bag, with slightly more repeat-worthy jams than skipable tracks (or ones that are more suited for amusing background music). I give Junkie XL credit for branching out and trying something different, at least from his excellent (and underrated) 2006 release Today. That record was was chock full of dreamy alterna-dance-pop, while this new one has JXL digging up some beats/blips from the ‘80s/Kraftwerk era with the intent on modernizing them. What Junkie XL needed to do though is coalesce his newfound and nostalgic influences into a more memorable record.