Crowd-funding has kept countless musicians of questionable commercial viability in the game, acting as a creative defibrillator for careers needing jolts of cash from diehard loyalists to survive. It’s also piqued the interest of past hit-makers looking to recapture their glory days. For acts that were flashes in the pan and weren’t very interesting the first time around, finding willing wallets isn’t easy (has-been alt-metal outfit Orgy recently fell $91,261 short of $100,000 sought to “rise back to the top” and become “a national and international name once again”), but the method seems well suited for reviving former critical darlings after disappointingly brief artistic life spans. Such is the case with ’90s all-girl alt-rock notables Luscious Jackson, who—only one album removed from 1996’s critically acclaimed Fever In Fever Out and its popular single “Naked Eye”—split in 2000 in favor of family responsibilities, leaving behind an intriguing collection of lushly dark pop mash-ups of funk, punk, hip-hop, and jazz.
On the strength of those quirky genre-blending experiments, the band’s reputation withstood more than a decade of retirement and prompted a successful online fundraising campaign for the new Magic Hour. Such an unexpected comeback could misfire in many ways, but Luscious Jackson has avoided some obvious mistakes: The band doesn’t reconfigure its sound for modern trends, pretend to still be punk rebels of the NYC underground, or rewrite “Naked Eye” a dozen times in the hopes of a late-stage hit. The trio isn’t trying to re-create the tense, gritty appeal of its previous work; rather, the album has the comfortable, loose demeanor of veterans rediscovering the pleasures of their craft. Unfortunately, those aren’t the qualities that earned the band its earlier fame.
Musically, Magic Hour is relatively simple, at times almost amateurish. (Generic dance-pop cut “Aaw Turn It Up!” feels like something assembled by preteens goofing around on an iPad.) The group checks its favorite genre boxes, but denser and more meticulously constructed tracks (such as the inoffensive yet forgettable “Are You Ready?”) adopt a bland, adult-alternative funk groove. Lyrically, they don’t have much to say, leading to the following query on “#1 Bum”: “Where’d you get that back? / Where’d you get that bum? / Where’d you get those buns?” Nostalgia-driven fan-funding is a useful way to see which short-lived phenoms have anything left in the tank, but Magic Hour suggests Luscious Jackson is a little too far removed from what drove the group to make music in the first place.