For a brief spell on Hyperdrama, Justice’s fourth studio album, it’s 1991 all over again and the rave gods are raining down lightning bolts from on high. Justice have always been time travelers, and on “Generator,” the album’s second track, they zap us back to the past with a serrated synth that tears across the stereo field like the Jaws of Life ripping through a crumpled Delorean. The sound is a reference to Joey Beltram’s oft-sampled “Mentasm,” a cornerstone of early-’90s hardcore techno and everything loud and rude—jungle, gabber, breakcore, and, however tenuously, Ed Banger itself—that followed. It might be the heaviest thing the French duo has ever set to tape; given their history (hard-rock riffs, Marshall stacks, a song called “Heavy Metal”), that’s saying something. But that very heaviness also makes the song an outlier on the album, because Justice have never sounded more polished.

Magpies in leather jackets, with cigarettes forever dangling from their lips, Justice used to make a point of being provocative. Their records were awash in jagged sawtooths, clashing frequencies, and bit-crushed drums. They brought playground swagger to hits like “D.A.N.C.E.” and winkingly channeled stadium-rock dinosaurs on prog behemoths like “New Lands.” But on Hyperdrama, their first album in eight years, they sound professional, meticulous, and surprisingly grown up. This time, rather than the ersatz hard rock of their debut, the ostentatious prog of Audio, Video, Disco., or even the disco AOR of Woman, they channel the cocktail of dance and ’80s pop developed in the 1990s by their French touch forebears, particularly Alan Braxe, whose “Music Sounds Better With You” (made with Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and the singer Benjamin Diamond, as the trio Stardust) set the gold standard for Gallic dance pop.

It’s a slick sound, sleekly aerodynamic and expensively appointed, and buffed to an ultra-vivid sheen. On the opening “Neverender,” Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker floats atop a sumptuous bed of pulsing keys; the claps and cymbals are so crystalline that they might be jewels in a vitrine. The choral pads, car-chase arpeggios, and starry-eyed crescendo of “Dear Alan”—surely a tribute to Braxe himself—are as sumptuous as the wriggly disco-funk bassline is spry. Track after track is bathed in a hyperreal glow that’s a world away from the duo’s scuzz-encrusted early work. At some point, Justice apparently traded their cigarettes for vapes, and something of that transition feels palpable in the toned-down sound of Hyperdrama: the discreet tug instead of the defiant drag, the blue LED in place of the burning ember.

Incongruous mash-ups, like the disco vamps and grueling techno of their 2007 single “Stress,” have been part and parcel of Justice’s music from the beginning, but on Hyperdrama, digital/analog hybrids—like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, or, indeed, a gleaming, futuristic vape pen—assume subtler forms. In “Generator,” the duo offsets the apocalyptic “Mentasm” stabs and pumping piano-house chords with sprightly disco bass, as though flickering between Fantazia and Studio 54. It’s a novel juxtaposition, and skillfully executed, though something about its “Hey! You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” setup feels slightly too clever, better suited for a creative director’s mood board than the messiness of an actual dancefloor.

“Afterimage” performs a similar bait-and-switch, balancing doomy techno synths with the breathy rapture of guest singer Rimon’s ecstatic sighs, but the contrast isn’t quite provocative enough to save the song’s expression of bliss from sounding generic. It doesn’t help that most of the guest singers Justice employ here—Parker, Rimon, Miguel, Thundercat, and Manchester electro-pop duo the Flints—opt for a similar falsetto range, making them all sound interchangeable. The clash of the totems is more interesting on “Moonlight Rendez-Vous,” a two-minute sketch that poses an unusual thought experiment: What if Wham!’s “Careless Whispers” had been recorded in the style of Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack?

The album’s best tracks are the most audacious: the unbridled joy of “Dear Alan,” a veritable fireworks display of pinwheeling arps and halo effects; the over-the-top prog-disco fusion of “Incognito,” which builds to a distorted climax reminiscent of Justice’s rebellious early hijinks, now rendered in state-of-the-art hi-def. But too much of it is simply too smooth—ploddingly mid-tempo, curiously risk averse. Nine songs into a 13-track run, “Explorer” bogs down in a morass of Phantom of the Opera synths; “Muscle Memory,” which follows, could have been a chance to show off their analog chops, but instead it feels like a Stranger Things retread—a synthwave set piece that’s been done many times before.

Justice don’t call their guest performers features; instead, the singers are credited with “starring” roles. A minor detail, perhaps, but one that speaks to the duo’s aims. Like Daft Punk, they’ve always understood the power of a strong visual, and those “starring” credits suggest they’re thinking of Hyperdrama in terms of spectacle—if not a movie, then a headlining festival slot. At Coachella this month, the duo stood stock still and let their light show do most of the work, while the disembodied voice of Kevin Parker looped into a crescendoing approximation of the kind of techno that’s only fleetingly audible within Hyperdrama’s carefully tended grounds.

It’s hard to escape the sensation that, beneath the album’s pristine surface, there are two dynamics at war: the insouciant energy of “Incognito” versus predictable, frictionless, strangely inoffensive anthems like “Neverender.” The eccentric versus the consummate professional; the maverick versus the safe bet. Yet for an album called Hyperdrama, actual tension—the kind of friction that once made Justice’s music feel so vital—is otherwise frustratingly hard to find.

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Justice: Hyperdrama