Have you ever eaten straight carbonara for 46 minutes? Me neither. But if I did, I’d get bored by the thirtieth bite. Despite loving the stuff, the same moreish magnificence would cause me to stultify. I might gag, leave the table. Then the leftovers would be picked at until I remembered that yes, great tastes can be too much when that’s all there is in the bowl. Listening to Jungle’s sophomore album is kinda like that: a big goop of goodness that, the more you spend time with it, twirls diminishing returns on your fork.
It’s better than its predecessor, 2014’s titanic self-titled effort. There, we were given fireworks strapped to a dummy of John Travolta, disco that steadfastly refused to believe that classic house was our nostalgic mainstay and trap was itching to be the here, the now, in the lacuna of Western dancefloors. Descending basslines; glitter- production like a round-the-clock New Year’s Eve party; this was a goddamn hit machine, launching two 20-somethings (J and T) onto a world-striding series of tours.
Man, it must’ve been dizzying, finding out that a neo-70s experiment was just what millions of people were waiting for.
California, and two failed relationships, have acted as the jump cable on the duo’s four-year wait. And some things have changed, even if the baking boogie of their material stays mostly intact. ‘House In L.A’ unfurls the torment of expectation: “You be the sunshine and it’s alright now, ask me to stay, but you won’t say it like that.” It’s alright now, apparently, as in then, the sun-drenched retreat from fame, radios and magazines. This over the blare of an ominous siren. Jungle are wary of the party comedown, and it’s a welcome texture.
We get the slipstream of ‘Beat 54(All Good Now)’ into ‘Cherry’, the former of which turns up a key for the chorus, digging back into Bee Gees vocal rapidity. The latter meanwhile wades into a swamp, punching a refrain of “you’re never gonna change me” into the escalating synthesisers, as if J or T is hugging themselves and swatting away flies that remind them of a past love. It’s a highpoint, because Jungle get to slow down a bit. There are more than enough cool studio choices – such as the piano/Willie Hutch sample on ‘Cosurmyne’ – to make that a pleasure.
The problem here is that the Jungle formula doesn’t diverge enough, which is a shame, because we’re a hair’s breadth from a great album. BOOM you’re in! BOOM a falsetto chorus! CRASH BANG HUZZAH there’s a fuck ton of reverb everywhere, passingly suave yet never close to heartache. We’re being asked to look askance at Sunset Strip bros (‘Happy Man’), a narrator whose own family wouldn’t recognise them (‘Mama Oh No’), and a symbolic trek through the self (‘(More and More) It Ain’t Easy’). But it’s hard to care. The band are so adamant that you dance, at the end of the day, that their stories are locked into repetitive phrasing, with the same wall of meshed vocals that rarely allow a single soul to break through.
‘Casio’ is nice on the first few listens, yet seems more and more like a Gorillaz rip-off – ironic considering it’s about fabricated emotions. The drunken caterwaul of ‘Pray’ sends For Ever back up before we learn that, yep, it’s all glorious strings without a point, empty of drama save the anxiety that you might’ve spilled your drink in a hypothetical V.I.P booth.
Which is to say that it’s fine being dance-y and cinematic. It’s just that the cinematic production has to lead us to a time, a mood, a greater complexity than “Oh Gawd life is tough when you aren’t sure who’s who because, I dunno, sunsets and boring beautiful individuals blur together in Los Angeles?” This LP is caught between two frames of mind: wanting to upturn the beer pong table, or to fill up the cups again.