Melbourne pocket-rocket Mojo Juju has finally released her highly anticipated album Seeing Red/Feeling Blue this month, and the result is a polished and calculated ode to that old complicated emotion – love.
Promising throwbacks to Soul, R’n’B and Funk in the lead up to its release, Juju has also admitted to a definite pop angle on certain aspects of the album. She cites influence from an eclectic range of artists on this album, including Stevie Wonder, Betty Davis and some more contemporary artists such as Andre 3000.
Over the course of about fifteen years, the pint-sized purveyor of tunes has resisted the trend to conventionalise her sound and her look, and has been gracing stages at some of Melbourne’s most loved music dives on her own terms ever since, evolving her sound into something formidable.
In October 2014 she released a brand new song – ‘A Heart Is Not A Yo-Yo’ – and it comes in second on the album. Sonically, it feels heavily inspired by Motown tunes with a prominent brass component, but with a modern twist. Lyrically, it was inspired by being a hopeless lover but reminding your other half you still love them. A velvety groove combined with subtle horns screams modern soul.
‘Sugarcoated’ has a warm, nostalgic vibe that comes from a deep and fuzzy piano intro. You can imagine Juju perched on a stool in some little dive, hat tilted over her face, a spotlight on and a killer backing band. Again, the brass section is utilised to create a chorus of jazz swells and shifts.
The second major single ‘They Come & They Go’ was born out of collaboration with producer Ptero Stylus (Diafrix/Mantra). The rootsy track unapologetically addresses the common issue of having fickle friends, channelled on a wave of sassy lyricism and sleazy riffs. Juju transitions between seduction croons to full on melodic rapping in the scathing bridge. Musically, it sounds like a poppy number, but the lyrics pack a punch (think “now who’ll pick you up when you’re out on your arse?”).
‘Rain It Down’ begins with a clean guitar lick, Juju’s smooth, subtle vocals easing in over a stuttering percussion. You can feeling yourself waiting for the punch to the guts – that growling intensity that has become synonyms with her voice at its full capacity – but in this song it never really delivers.
‘Get Fooled’ has many tonal shifts, and sees Juju surprisingly declaring “la-la-la” in the chorus, enjoying the vocal and emotional range at her disposal, while ‘Straight To Hell’ begins like a Gin Wigmore song with heavy piano. ‘Ain’t Gonna Wait’ is a bruiser, with bongo-esque drumming, “honky-tonk saloon” references and booze-fuelled storytelling. Juju plays up her masculine side with deadpan impatience – you can just hear the shrug of the shoulder in the lyrics.
Overall, Juju’s second solo album is solid. The swagger and sass in her big, big voice perfectly complements the smooth and full-bodied sounds of her blues jazz band, weaving old-style instrumentals with a modern commentary. Famous for her attitude, some songs disappoint by wallowing a bit too long in sentimentality and subtlety, but again, this just re-affirms her versatility and relevance as an artist.
That being said, Mojo Juju is best experienced live.
Seeing Red/Feeling Blue is out now via ABC Music.
Mojo Juju will take her album on the road from April through to August. For dates and details, head to http://www.mojojuju.org/concerts/