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A Rooting Good Album from Basement Jaxx

Ever since an Australian friend once told me what ‘root’ means in his home country I have been unable to take the word seriously. Now I snigger like a schoolboy every time I hear it used in the most vague and unintended double entendre. To those unfamiliar with Australian slang its meaning is best explained in the following examples. Apparently it is crucial to a particular chat-up line: ‘Ever tripped over a log in the forest?’ To which the expected answer is no, you then follow up with – ‘Well, how about a root then?’ Or it is often used to describe a much maligned Australian beer: Fosters is claimed to be like rooting in a canoe, i.e. f***ing close to water.

I think you have probably got the idea now. Whether Basement Jaxx wanted to imply a sexual meaning or not, ‘Rooty’ is certainly an album that deserves such a title. From Prince (the original, sex obsessed, pop star dwarf) inspired funk of Breakaway and SFM (sexy feline machine) to the straight-to-the-point message of ‘Get me off ’.

This year there seems to be a plethora of artists releasing eagerly awaited follow-ups to highly successful albums. Often this can be a recipe for disaster, expectations are raised so high that disappointment is all too likely. The pressure to deliver can easily stifle the passion and creativity once hit upon by a musician. Latest material, however, from established artists like Missy Elliot, Air and Daft Punk has been very impressive; all producing follow-ups of equal or greater merit to influential debuts. So, it was with much fear that I first listened to ‘Rooty’. Basement Jaxx’s first album ‘Remedy’ was such a critical and popular success that surely another great album was asking too much. With the above-mentioned artists all showing they could still hack it, it was odds-on that someone would churn out a run-of-the-mill effort and bring us back down to Earth.

Thankfully ‘Rooty’ is a triumph. It will prove a truly serendipitous discovery to those who are as yet unfamiliar with the Brixton duo. To their fans, it will be a delight. It’s such a varied mixture of tunes that it could almost give you the feeling that you were listening to a compilation album, except that every track is stamped with their distinctive sound and production values. There are several stand out moments but the rest is anything but filler. Every listen will leave you with a different tune stuck in your head that you’ll be humming, whistling or singing until the next time.

‘Where’s your head at?’ sounds like what might happen to a blur song if Basement Jaxx got their hands on it, with a Gary Numan sample thrown in for good measure. You can just imagine Damon jumping around on stage singing ‘Don’t let the walls cave in on you’. For ‘Do your thing’ we encounter something that sounds more like a spiced-up version of the theme to Film 2001 with Jonathan Ross than an average house tune.

Chilled-out Ibiza compilations are all the rage at the moment. ‘Rooty’ could be the ideal antidote to remind us that there’s some dancing to be done as well. After all, what would you expect from an album named after the Jaxx’s club night in an Irish pub in Camberwell. ‘Get me off ’, ‘Romeo’, ‘Jus 1 Kiss’, ‘ Where’s your head at ’ would all be pretty much guaranteed to fill the dance floor. And that’s being really picky because we are so spoiled for choice. Probably the entire album would do the job.

A highlight is hard to pinpoint. The variation in musical styles means that it depends on your mood as to which song most satisfies on each particular listen. Still, if pushed, then I’d go for ‘Broken Dreams’. The wistful vocals are reminiscent of Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, but that’s where the similarity ends. It can hardly be described as a melancholic song. It has Cuban trumpets and a sample of ‘Costa Brava’ performed by Felix de Ypacarai y sus Paraguayos. Basement Jaxx have always had a bit of thing for the Latin sound and this is them doing what they do best. It’s hard not to let the song take you to that warm summers evening spent relaxing in a beachside bar.
Every so often an album comes along that seems to define a period in time. Everybody you know goes out and buys a copy. Its tracks become as familiar as children’s nursery rhymes. Moby’s album ‘Play’ was one of these. It crossed the musical boundaries so that it appealed to house heads and pop kids and everyone in between. It was as if every CD player in the nation had been glued up with ‘Play’ inside so that nobody could listen to anything else. Air’s ‘Moon Safari’ is another prime example, becoming the prerequisite soundtrack for twenty-thirty something dinner parties. It looks like ‘Rooty’ could be the latest album in this series; you could well be unable to escape it. But why bother? Don’t fight it. Basement Jaxx have made the perfect record for summer 2001.

© Jim Johnson 2001

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