Given the ceaseless parade of ’90s reunions, Luscious Jackson‘s isn’t entirely shocking. One does wonder if the death of the trio’s good friend and demi-mentor, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, got the ladies thinking about mortality, and do it while you can, etc. But from the peppy opener here, You And Me then right into #1 Bum, this comeback album from one of the late-90s most beloved and influential indie rock/hip-hop hybridders doesn’t wallow in greying melancholy. #1 Bum especially satisfies as a bouncy, near-Cajun kind of stroll filled with funny lines like, “Your jeans fit nice—I have no pride.” Yes, it’s a song about a nice butt. Good start!
And things simmer along just fine like that right ’til the end with 3 Seconds To Cross, a breezy, snare rim-tapping rumination on sunny California. “Ain’t no town for a walking man, they say. But I disagree.” Back in ’97, these Brooklyn dames would’ve been dissing on such L.A. truisms like suffocating traffic, as opposed to strolling across the street whenever you damn well feel like it in the Big Apple. That closing tune is a fine little lyrical summation of Magic Hour, about coming to terms with the often relieved concessions of ageing. Though that could be said of the band’s sound too.
So much of what Luscious Jackson helped forge back then—lo-fi indie rock matched to groovy, trip-hop rhythms, vocals oozing big city irreverence—has all become de rigueur in modern pop. So this record isn’t going to floor the 20-somethings. Some of the phrasings and song titles like Aww Turn It Up almost sound corny. But any possible “Mooooom, don’t do that!” moments are instantly undercut by the ever-smooth groove and those familiar multi-tracked vocals that harmonize so seamlessly. (It would seem, in our confusion as to whatever “surf” music is, we’ve mistakenly left Luscious Jackson nods out of the reviews of the myriad Best Coasts of the indie world lately.) Like on Show Us What You Got, where its references to “rainbow afros” bopping around collegiate funk beats might seem all 1995, as is the thrice-removed casio clinks. But guess what? They happen to work together perfectly, still and always, apparently.
The album builds in bottom end as it goes along, with Are You Ready? being a cresting point, and sounding like a sure-fire single, with a clear sunny acoustic guitar break and higher-pitched vocals. Their fluid production instincts are well intact. Probably digitally recorded, the album nonetheless has that minimal analog vibe that cradles the band’s 70s-cum-90s-inspired day-glo so well. The fuzzed-out bass pushing the rote but ready chorus of Frequency and the house beat disco of Love Is Alive—both right in the middle of the record—guarantee store managers at The Limited, H&M, etc. will be playing this during this holiday season. And I mean that as a compliment because we need stuff like this coming back to our dressing rooms. The guitar-driven We Go Back comes a little too late in the record, as it adds that refreshing pure songwriter pause that Luscious Jackson could always hook you off to the side of the dancefloor with. And the repeated refrain towards the end of the song, “Still feels like you’re here,” really feels like a misty nod to Yauch. It might be interesting to see the ladies try an entire album of such glittering, reflective jangly pop if they keep this reunion going. (Apparently they have a childrens album in the works.)
There is a drawback to having impeccable taste and the smarts to know where you are in your career: there are few odd turns or possibly embarrassing (daring?) missteps here that might’ve added some urgent energy and help create a little more discussion around this comeback. That’s a fine line that few can walk, of dipping into some new trends while summoning up what you did so well in the first place. But this is Luscious Jackson—it’d be like hating on your successful older sister who moved to Park Slope but still takes you to a nice brunch every couple of weeks. Any minor complaints here are nothing a few mimosas wouldn’t cure.