Once the Next Big Thing, the Rapture return after a five-year absence with an album that doesn't do much to reestablish their reputation.
When the Rapture released Echoes (2003), the band’s breakthrough album, their brand of splintery Gang of Four-meets-the-‘80s-club-scene suddenly became codified into a genuine movement. Pitchfork led the way, with a fawning review written by head-Fork himself, Ryan Schreiber, which declared Echoes as the harbinger of a new age in music, one where irony was dead and free-spirited dance-punk would lead us to finally each embrace our inner child. The ‘Fork would go on to award Echoes its coveted Album of the Year slot in 2003, and many publications -- and listeners -- followed suit.
Then, dance-punk disappeared from critical favor just as quickly, with an onslaught of similarly minded bands creating a glut on the internet and the airwaves, some good (Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand) and most as bland as a McDonald’s fish filet (Test Icicles, every band covered by NME from 2003-2005). The Rapture, godfathers of these bastard children, released Pieces of the People We Love in 2006, to mixed reviews and a collective shrug from a blogosphere already out to find the next next big thing.
Five years later, we’ve got In the Grace of Your Love, an album that sees the Rapture reunited with formative dance-rock label DFA and minus one central member, bassist Matt Safer. Perhaps more importantly, there’s been an enormous amount of exciting, energizing, inventive music in the last half-decade without the band -- and not much of it sounds like the Rapture’s previous work. But, ultimately, so what? Plenty of bands hit it big early in their careers, only to get stalled out with later releases under pressure from all that attention. If a band can rebound from a long absence with an interesting new record, people will likely relax on holding the group up to whatever standards and hopes the critical community had thrust upon them due to one early, epochal album.
Too bad for the Rapture, then. In the Grace of Your Love doesn’t push the band beyond its old disco-lite formulas, nor does it disarm you and ask for your hand on the dance floor. There some fine moments: “Sail Away” reaches up into the shiny stratosphere with shimmering keys and a great performance by vocalist Luke Jenner; “Come Back to Me” and “In the Grace of Your Love” embrace house music’s repetition and insistent grooves to compelling effect; album stand-out “It Takes Time to Be a Man” borrows less from ‘70s disco than ‘70s soul, with a staccato guitar lick, sensual backbeat, and understated vocal that bring a certain grace to a surprising album closer.
But that leaves a lot of time left over to fill. At best, the other middling tracks here glide by on serviceable beats and smiling attitude (“Children,” “Never Die Again”). At worst, the Rapture sound positively neutered, unsure how to get your hips moving again or even how to write a memorable hook (“Miss You", “Roller Coaster", “Blue Bird”). On these moments, it becomes clear just how many of the band’s strongest hooks and melodies came in the form of Matt Safer’s basslines. Safer brought intuitive counterpoints to Jenner’s bleating vocals and guitars on songs like “Get Myself Into It", “Whoo! Alright, Yeah… Uh Huh", and the band’s signature track, “House of Jealous Lovers”. His replacement on Grace, keyboardist Gabriel Andruzzi, can play the instrument well enough, but doesn’t come close to matching Safer’s solid grooves or nuanced variations.
Still, most of the blame for Grace’s weaker moments should fall at the feet of Jenner. His voice sounds stronger than ever, but somehow his band’s songs lose some of their appealing quirkiness without his nervous yelping. More egregiously, his lyrics are horrible to the point of distraction. Dance music doesn’t necessarily need to say anything profound, but its inanity shouldn’t take the listener out of the moment, either. On older songs, like “Whoo! Alright, Yeah… Uh Huh", the Rapture had indelible hooks and driving rhythms to balance out the silliness on the lyrics sheet. Here, there’s not much to distract from banalities like “Always thought I could forget you / But I can’t forget you / When I see your face, it just tears me up inside,” or “Your life’s a roller coaster / She said, / And I want to get on." That’s some Anthony Keidis shit, right there.
In a way, it’s ironic that In the Grace of Your Love will be released by DFA Records. It’s that label’s founder, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, who has done the most with dance-rock in the last decade to push the genre to its highest potential. Next to his material, In the Grace of Your Love sounds as forgettable as the dozens of nameless bands who came in Echoes’s wake. The Rapture could still regroup on their next record, but it’s difficult to see where they’d go from here.