If it wasn’t for the drawling, robotic call of “Basement Jaxx …” on the album’s title track, you’d be hard-pressed to recognize Scars as an album by the London electronic duo. Gone are the act’s fun, genre-bending interlude-lets—which, on past albums, tied together its kinetic beats and cut-and-paste electronic textures—along with the anonymous-sounding vocals jump-roping through its stylistic burps.
Instead, Scars resembles a jumbled hip-hop album—more specifically, the type that relies on cameos to hide a lack of innovation. Each track conforms to the strengths of its guest vocalist, from Santigold’s breezy reggae-pop (“Saga”) and Sam Sparro’s high-NRG synth-pop (“Feelings Gone”) to Lightspeed Champion’s pastoral bleep-folk (“My Turn”) and Yo Majesty’s sweaty hip-hop (the hard-charging highlight “Twerk”). Unsurprisingly, the cumulative effect is disconnected, disjointed and lacking spontaneity.
Scars improves when Basement Jaxx remembers its playful side. Standout “Day of the Sunflowers (We March On)” features Yoko Ono, and it’s a glassy new-wave oddity that alternates between her breathy sexuality and spoken-word slam-poetry. “What’s a Girl Gotta Do?” is a horn-plumped vaudeville-soul high-step, while white-boy-soul phenom Eli “Paperboy” Reed wails through the Mark Ronson-y electro-blues pastiche “She’s No Good.” Still, for the first time with a Basement Jaxx album, listeners know what to expect before giving it a spin—and that lack of surprise and ingenuity ultimately sinks Scars.