Junior Senior don’t seem cut out for this rock-star thing. In a time brimming with exacting refurbishments of rock and roll vice, perfect sneers, and tight little pants, these guys are the odd kids you met at the Science Olympiad one year, the ones who made nitro funny-cars from mousetraps. You wondered what became of them until someone told you they were European exchange students, and they had to go back home. “So that explains it,” you said to yourself, knowing it didn’t explain anything.
Senior lumbers his enormous frame into the crowd, thrusting his whole mic-stand and body to us. We’re at the Knitting Factory, New York’s own House of Gloom, renowned for its always terrific bookers, its excellent sound system, and the peculiar ability of the main space to suck the life right out of even the most rigorously energetic combo. We don’t know the words, but it doesn’t matter. The music they’re making is only a part of what’s taking place—a physical ritual that leads elsewhere, like a chain reaction. Or maybe it’s that mousetrap: very cheap but very good at what it does. The tiny strength-sapping creature who lives beneath the floorboards, sinking its fangs into the undersoles of unsuspecting attendees, lulling them into a safe and somnambulant voyeurism, becomes frightened at the rumble of our bodies and scurries off for darker climes.
They have great voices—especially Junior, a bashfully earnest type who’s found some natural overdrive in his throat, some essential bite. He’s able to kick his falsetto into a raw clarity that rides just aloft of the band’s hand-clappy glam-groove, a voice that in another time and place would have seared through AM static, the way Chuck Berry and John Lennon knew how to do.
Junior Senior are from Denmark, which maybe explains something and maybe doesn’t. If you like rock music, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. Everybody’s a de facto researcher of the let’s-rock thesaurus. It’s only natural that on an album dedicated to discovering every possible way to say “let’s party,” Junior Senior would use English, but it wouldn’t matter if they used Martian; their intentions are clear. If you couldn’t make out the words to their No. 1 British hit, “Move Your Feet,” the music itself—exuberantly hooky disco-rock with a burning vocal line—would tell you what you needed to do. Mets fans know “Move Your Feet” because the Shea Stadium p.a. blasts it on the all too rare occasions when the home crew smacks a ball through the opposing infield. Stadiums need this kind of song almost as much as discos do: to signal the crowd that good things are happening, that it’s time to pull together, that it’s time to shimmy.
While the rest of D-D-Don’t Don’t Stop the Beat (which gets its American release later this summer on Atlantic) pulls more rock into the mix, Junior Senior never abandon their infectious dancefloor underpinnings. The joyous, nothing-to-lose “Chicks and Dicks”—to choose a title at random—pulls off the kind of burning soul-update Primal Scream were never quite able to summon. Every line is a chorus; verses have been replaced with buildups and breakdowns. It’s like each song on the album has the dynamics and reach of a DJ set, ramming David Bowie and Fats Domino into K.C. and the Sunshine Band, then gluing it together with full-throated sugar-pop harmonies and a rhythm section worthy of the Beatles at Hamburg’s Star Club. A lot of bands lately are trying to prove dance music can sound like rock (or vice versa). Junior Senior play as if dance and rock had never parted ways.