Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love

The dance-punk/disco-punk/postpunk group The Rapture is back after an extended absence. Will this highly anticipated offering be able to match their now-modern-classic first album, Echoes, or the incredibly underrated dance machine, Pieces of the People We Love? Will it make us swoon and dance uncontrollably?

Let's do this.

Cover/Title: The title and cover play off each other well, with the 'grace' and Jesus-on-the-cross pose of the surfer juxtaposing nicely. I'm reminded of their last album's name, Pieces of the People We Love, and wonder if they're going for an extended theme here -- also, something about relationships? Religious ideas, too? Since I surf, it's hard to look at the image objectively, but overall I like it. Intriguing. Nice job, The Rapture.

01. Sail Away
At first I am super annoyed at the opening word of the album: Luke Jenner, the lead singer of The Rapture, doesn't have an amazing voice, but it hasn't been a problem in the past. With the held out bend-and-rise of "saaaaaaaail...sail awaaaaaaaay," it stands out. In a bad way. All is forgotten and forgiven when the mind-blowing disco beat jumps in and a dance party starts! No, still sort of annoying and whiny. It's off to a pretty 'meh' start, even though all the pieces are there: The jangly repeated guitar in the back, the spacey keyboards that flip upwards intermittently, the fun dance beat. It just all sort of sounds, well, not bad, but stale. The little sleigh-bells-and-sax part that forms the outro is actually the most interesting part of the song -- it's like a jazzy American Indian tribal dance. 2.5 stars.
Note: After repeated listenings, I actually mind the singing wail less and less. 

02. Miss You
At first this track starts out sounding almost exactly like the second track on their last album (the eponymous "Pieces of the People We Love"), but instead of being joined by fun riffs, guitar hits, and a distorted voice that all dovetail perfectly into a great groove, we are instead assaulted by some cheesy romantic lyrics and an even more sparse and uninspired synth backing. The groove is sort of there, but I'm already getting bored. The quiet little synth line in the backing of the second verse makes things a little more interesting but, all in all, it feels too thin. Jenner does not a great voice for emoting, but he's singing like it anyways, unhelped by any sort of distortion or effect. Now I'm just waiting patiently for the next track. Is this going to go anywhere? This is not clever. There's not even an ending! It just stops. 2 stars.

03. Blue Bird
A big ooooh intro that sounds like Band of Horses/indie rock band du jour leads us in here and, whoah, falsetto. Oh no -- bluebird on my shoulder? That's what he said? Yikes. These fast drums could go somewhere...oh, no, it has slowed, and now there are whiny guitars over reverby vocals. This sounds unfinished. Major production work would help, I think - so far this album has sounded so empty. The ooohhh part is okay. What the heck, The Rapture--I thought you were dance-punk. This definitely is anti-dance. No soul at all, no funk, no rock. Okay, I'm getting to the waiting-for-it-to-end point. Oh, it just...stops. Do I hate this song? I'm not sure. 1 stars

04. Come Back to Me
It's a Mediterranean dance party! But a low key one. Accordion. Snaps. Could've used a few more vocal track takes: This sounds like a dance demo track. Like the tracks before it, it doesn't go anywhere. "Aren't we all children?" Well, if so, it makes it creepy that you're inviting me back into your "vibrating spirit." And then it just stops, goes into an echo - wow, another non-ending. Oh wait, it's not done! Oooh, some building fuzzy electronics. This must be where our "frustrated spirits" get redeemed, right? I'm ready for the dance explosion. Here comes the beat!, and it's...a low key basic holding-place garage band preset. WASTE. 1 star.

05. In the Grace of Your Love
The title track has got to pick up this pathetic dance party, right? I feel like I was invited to the Party-of-the-Year, and only a few members of FBLA showed up. They're all sitting in the corner, giggling about the fact that they were able to get Jason's older brother Kyle to buy Natty Ice. Where's the popular girl who drank too much and is going crazy on the dance floor? What about the nerdy kid who has surprisingly awesome dance floor moves? What about the cheerleaders doing their cheesy routines to the beat in earnest? This is a simple beep boop beat, and a few crashing cymbals. Our narrator is thankful to be in the grace of someone's love. Perhaps after "Miss[ing] You," and begging her to "Come Back to Me," they are now together and he is thankful to be in "Grace of [Her] Love." He's still afraid of being pushed around and hurt and scared, though, maybe because he's afraid of retaliation for whatever got him missing her in the first place? You know what I'm scared of? Having to sit through 6 more tracks. I'm not feeling very graceful here. I think the bpm of this track could have been doubled, it is dragging so much. At least there is more going on in this song, and there are a few hooky synth and guitar lines. It's strange that a band so good at crafting spiky, angular (that was the dance-punk buzz word seven years ago or so) could make such noneventful music. 2 stars.

06. Never Gonna Die Again
Classic disco beat, nice little guitar jangle-strum. Finally we may be getting somewhere. The singing is lower, and is less warbly. Horns break in, and an uncomfortable guitar wiggles as Jenner spits quick lyrical "nevah nevah gonna see ya"s joined later by a whole chorus of yells. It's a pretty basic love-and-dance song, and I can get behind it. I especially like the dramatic backing synth-horn stuff that swells at the end, threatening to take over the entire track in a claustrophobic way--the narrator is dying here, perhaps. Not bad. Not entirely captivating, but still good. 3 stars.

07. Roller Coaster
Uh-oh, this title. Such a cliched metaphor. This better not be about a love that goes up and down, up and down hey hey hey. Oh dear, this beginning lyrical line is annoying. Yup, his life is a roller coaster and she wants it to stop because it is hurting her head. "I know I hurt your head, but if you leave I'll be dead." Sigh. "Is there some way to work it out? Please say there is." Look, I know dance-song lyrics don't always have to be incredibly deep (see Lady Gaga's "Telephone), but this is some trite nonsense. The guitar solo is yawn-inducing and, c'mon, this isn't even a dance track. Okay, it's over. Wow. 1 star.

08. Children
We start out with a pretty general dancy synth track, and are joined by an interesting melody. I like where it goes. Are we children again, just like in "Come Back to Me?" Albums can be basic and sweet where love is concerned, but the lyrics feel a little lazy as a whole. This song has some good backing 'ahhh's and a pleasant feel. Good for an autumn car ride, but not a dance party. Wait, am I saying that because I am starting to feel Fall beginning? Excited! So much more exciting than this album. 3 stars.

09. Can You Find a Way?
At first there are hints of The Rapture's amazing "House of Jealous Lovers" from Echoes in the quick-hit electro riff that opens this track. But the beat disappoints, and the singing just sounds goofy. This isn't helped by the bent-string guitar hits that sound like the end of a surf-pulp cheese fest. Whoah, it's already over? Wha? 3 minutes? It didn't feel that short, but maybe I was still typing away on the previous track's review. That's the most grace from this album I've gotten so far. This song went NOWHERE INTERESTING. 1 star.

10. How Deep Is Your Love?
This is the single, and I've heard it's good. Okay, let's restart it from the beginning so I get every bit of dance-punk goodness. Repeated semi-dark-sounding piano line...I like. More love lyrics, but these are acceptable...okay. Is her love deep enough to accept him in all his pain? Let's find out as the upbeat tambourine-and-clap accented beat drops in. This is The Rapture's signature sound, and they are rewarded for going back to their old ways - Jenner pleads that he wants to hear "that song" in a simple but effective backing track chorus line that just separates the chorus from the verse (along with the fact that it's double- or triple-tracked to give it breadth). Classic dance: Beat drops out, and Jenner screams "How deep is your love?" It sounds real, and I want to sing along. Tambo enters in! My next guess is ... whoah, not prepared! Sax solo! Hell yeah! THAT's what is missing from this album! This band used to have a dedicated saxophonist/cowbellist (yup, really), and I think he's the guy that left the band. He must have been a more integral part than I had assumed, because the sax and wildness at the end of the track really recalls the glory days of the early 00s disco-punk movement, complete with crashes in and out. It's perfect to repeat the question about the extent of the significant other's love, as it creates a mix of uncertainty and longing. Nice way to end the album. The closing track better do its work well. 4 stars.

11. It Takes Time to Be a Man
That title, lol. I know you're married with kids now, Jenner, but I think this is not the 60s soul scene. This repetitive little closer is uninteresting until the multiple "heeee/whooaaaa/hallelujah" chorus comes in at the end. That part is interesting, but as a whole it's not pretty, emotional, full, or, most importantly for The Rapture, fun enough to work. That's what this album is missing: Fun. And cowbell. Though there is some sax at the end. Okay, I can give you guys a little grace for that. 2 stars.

The Final Word: A disappointing, spare, and mostly not-quite-there album. Don't bother. It's really too bad that a band with this much potential has mellowed into this. Could this be partially due to the internal strife in the band, or Jenner getting married? I hope not the latter, because, being married myself, I don't like the idea of marriage and family life leading to a tedious existence and a decline in artistic brilliance. The Rapture could be great again with an injection of fun: Most of the album sounds like a pretty dull dance party. They do it best when they retread their earlier material. No shame in that, guys.
Standout Tracks: How Deep Is Your Love?

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