All Funked Out
Sometimes things end because they’re supposed to end, because their time has spent itself and drawn to a close. This seemed to be the case with Luscious Jackson, the New York-based indie-funk band that formed in 1991, naming themselves after former Philadelphia 76ers player Lucious Jackson. They had a good go of things in the ‘90s, releasing three albums after being the first band signed to the Beastie Boys’ label (a plus of having the Beasties’ former drummer Kate Schellenbach join the band). Then keyboardist Vivian Trimble left in 1998, and though the band continued until 2000, they eventually broke up. But in 2011, Luscious Jackson announced they were getting the band back together and they’d be releasing their fourth studio album, their first in fourteen years, since 1999’s Electric Honey.
The band looked to the crowdfunding venue PledgeMusic, a venture similar to Kickstarter, to support Magic Hour. After such a hiatus, one might expect Luscious Jackson to come back with a new aesthetic, a new sound for a new decade and a changed musical landscape. But Magic Hour seems more like a continuation of the smooth but unremarkable Electric Honey. There are plenty of hooky, catchy tracks—the album begins with the upbeat but uninteresting “Are You Ready?”, where reverb-drenched, staticky guitars scramble over upbeat percussion, accompanied by vocals that can only be called, well, “luscious,” from bassist Jill Cunniff and guitarist Gabby Glaser. Much of the record falls in this limbo space between slightly funky dance music and calculated pop, just catchy enough to warrant your attention but lacking in originality and engagement, like the percussive, confident “Show Us What You Got” or “Love is Alive,” with its slick drums and bubbling synths. Songs like “So Rock On” (with a contribution from Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz) and “Aaw Turn It Up!” sound somewhat fun and adopt a kind of bad-ass attitude, but they don’t have the same kind of verve and boldness of other female artists like MIA or Santigold. “Frequency” honestly sounds like something you’d hear from a Disney movie about an “edgy” young female singer, and the dancey “#1 Bum,” a paean to a particularly nice posterior, tries a little too hard to sound gritty (“Your jeans fit nice / What’s your price?”).
On “We Go Back,” Cunniff and Glaser sing, “We go back but we can’t go back / But we can go on.” It seems that Luscious Jackson still need to go on, to move forward with their sound. There are moments of promise, like in the bridge on “Aaw Turn It Up!”, where there are horns and an excellent vocal harmony section. Luscious Jackson might want to embrace their “luscious” funky side and forget about crowd-pleasing pop this time around.