Sound — 8
Years before the EDM boom that occurred this decade, many will point to Justice's 2007 debut album, "Cross," as being one of the sparks to help light the fuse for that big electronica movement. The French duo's style of buzzy, modular-driven electro house music had both groove and grit to it that would inspire the sounds of electro house producers like Dada Life and Cazzette, as well as help spur a nu disco movement carried by producers like Madeon and Treasure Fingers.
But in 2011, as EDM was starting to snowball to its peak of popularity, Justice stepped away from their electro house sound in their follow-up album, "Audio, Video, Disco," in favor of working with more instrumental arrangements and vocals. While it wasn't an objectively bad call for the duo to move in a different direction, the album's offering spurred a very polarized response, with many reviling the change in sound.
Despite that sizable amount of listeners dissatisfied with that second album, nearly every Justice fan perked back up when the duo started showing activity again to release a third album, having been five years since "Audio, Video, Disco." In their third album, "Woman," Justice have no intention to make a commitment into rehashing the sound of their first or second album, but take things in stride with some new tricks to offer something more widespread in sound and style. With the first half of the album adamantly evoking a '70s-era dance aesthetic (from the disco-inspired string melodies in "Safe and Sound" and the Giorgio Moroder-style synth melodies in "Alakazam!," to the soulful "Pleasure"), Justice continue to hone the heightened vocal presence that "Audio, Video, Disco" did (see "Stop"), while bringing back the stronger sonic elements from "Cross," like the funky organic bass in "Safe and Sound" and the buzzier analog bass in "Fire."
By the second half of "Woman," Justice start paying more mind to their synths. "Randy" throbs with electro house energy, the harpsichord lead arpeggios in "Heavy Metal" gives it a distinct Baroque flair on the album, and the stacked synth layering in the '80s synthwave feel of "Chorus" proves to be exceptional. However, the album stumbles in its last steps, and with the penultimate "Love S.O.S." wielding a siren tone that only manages to pester throughout the song, the ending "Close Call" meanders too long in its warm and sunny melodies.
Lyrics — 5
Despite investing more in the vocal aspect of their music in this and their previous album, the lyrics in "Woman" aren't anything all that captivating. With simple and hooky lines in "Safe and Sound" ("Time's up, kick start, keep on track / Flag's out, sit back, safe and sound"), "Pleasure" ("Use imagination / As a destination") and "Love S.O.S." ("It's a love S.O.S. / There's a love, love, love emergency") serving their simple purpose of helping the retro disco/soul emulation of the album even further, the few songs that try to say more either come off as chunkier versions of hooks ("Baby, but all the nights and days we spent together / It's so easy to forget how to surrender / But nothing's ever stopped" in "Fire") or saddle themselves with clichés ("Hold onto what you got and strike while the iron's hot / Put up a fight / Those days are good and gone / Keep up keep on going strong" in "Randy").
Overall Impression — 8
Deliberating upon which aspects from their two previous albums should be used to build album number three, Justice succeed in making "Woman" a next step that avoids being a shameless, crowd-pleasing retread of their former glory in "Cross." But similar to the likes of Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories," a key aspect of Justice's "Woman" is concerned with reviving the spirit of old genres without deviating too much from their classic templates. Justice's synthwave/electro house augmentations may not provide the most bizarrely brilliant mutations to the disco/soul subject matter, but in the interest of pastiche, Justice show that they can color within those lines quite vividly.