The point of dance music is right there in the name: it exists to light a proverbial fire under the listener, to get them dancing. How then do you explain Rush Midnight’s eponymous album, a dance record with a distinctly New Wave edge that so often sounds like it’s coming up from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean? It’s a bad joke, a dance album as torpid as this one, but there’s no humor anywhere in this distant, clinical music.
There is, in fact, not much of anything at work here. Lyrics that might be expected to resonate ring empty. “I’ll be the same/all alone,” frontman Manning intones in “Too Late” with a voice that sounds unconcerned with, even unconnected to, everything around it; later, in “Say I’m Someone,” when he sings “make your mind up/when’s it enough?/come over and lift me up,” what should sound like a plea for attention and a seductive come-on at sounds instead like a line from a cue-card. Every song is ostensibly about passion, about relationships desired or lost or the demand for physical interaction (almost always through dancing) but Manning never conveys those emotions through the music, which is synthetic and sluggish. Occasionally the tempo picks up, as with the opening of “Take Us There,” or the beat becomes pronounced and heavy, but with one exception these are teases. 12 seconds into “Take Us There” the scratchy guitar hits a wall of water and then decelerates to match the rest of the newly-introduced elements. “They’ll Never Know” begins with a bass line that is as close as this album ever gets to the funk it’s been reaching after all the time but again, the hollow, neon sounds of the synthesizer show up and push the percussion to the back.
This confusion of sounds, this inability to let any single aspect of the music to dominate, feels like cowardice. Rush Midnight may open on “Closer,” a song ostensibly about “losing all control” but why then does every promise of something more exciting end up quashed? Why are the sounds and effects so muted and why does the entire album sound so water-logged? Manning’s vocals, which should be dripping with lust and passion, are as synthetic as the instruments he uses, alien in a way that is not, as it might be, exotic (when will there be a masculine equivalent to the Hajime Soryama’s sexy robots, I ask?) but merely affectless. Is he afraid to invest himself in his music and in these scenarios because he’s afraid of leaving himself vulnerable? There’s not enough in the lyrics or the production to suggest an answer either way.
The B-side, “I’m Yours” is the one honest song; even if Manning’s vocals still sound unconnected from everything else the song pumps, it moves, it doesn’t just sit there on the floor or sink to the bottom of the ocean like every other song here. It’s not brilliant — it still sounds like the kind of spacey techno pop that served as the background music for a million videogames (it may very well be a remix of loading music from Phantasy Star Online in places) — but it’s lively and that makes it a contrast to everything else on the album. Not that the rest of the album is unlistenable, but it is imminently forgettable. “I Was Myself” tries to inject some life but the way it does this, by fragmenting the beat and, for once, letting the various instruments stand by themselves, leaves one with an incomplete impression, as of a poorly-constructed mural.
There are attempts at motion in “Fix Me Up” but it’s wholly artificial, sounding much more like a discarded cut from a cheesy ’80s movie set in Miami. Remixes provided by Tokyo Police Club, The Treasury and Grey Groom are laughable: each song is sped up without an ear for the vocals, which, when forced into a quicker time-signature, sound stretched and awkward (which may be something but it’s not anything good). When, later in the covers, the song is slowed down to a bass-heavy, treble-empty crawl and given qualities not unlike those of a hit rap song, it sounds absurd, a sick attempt to hold interest with a poor joke.
Nothing in this album seems capable of drawing the listener’s attention, whether that be through strong thematic thrust, an outstanding piece of instrumentation, clever lyrics or, most grievously absent of all, emotion. A dance album without emotion, without purpose, is hard to justify; it is the definition of unessential. Worse still, it’s absurd: what could possibly explain the existence of something so blatantly unmotivated?