The hype surrounding this record, particularly in indie-rock circles, was absolutely ridiculous. With little more to go on than the (admittedly great) single ìHouse of Jealous Loversî and a handful of decent live shows, the Rapture were being touted as potential saviors of rock. If you believed most of these critics, youíd think that the Rapture were the one band capable of lifting the scene out of its doldrums and getting scrawny and pretentious hipsters all over the country to shake their behinds in public with abandon. I admit that the Rapture show I saw in Houston this summer featured more unselfconscious dancing than any other Iíd seen this year did. However, thereís a simple explanation behind that. Itís EASY for people to dance to a strict, unwavering four-on-the-floor drum program. Itís the most basic beat ever, and if you canít dance to it, you simply have no rhythm. After years of either standing still or having spastic seizures to bands that changed time signatures every thirty seconds, a band as easy to dance to as the Rapture would obviously be a breath of fresh air. Itís hardly the stuff that revolutions are made of. Besides, ìHouse of Jealous Loversî and ìOlioî notwithstanding, the material that the Rapture had released up to that point sounded like teenagers in a garage who hadnít learned how to tune their instruments yet.
After the hype surrounding it, the long search for the right label to
release it, and the subsequent leaking of it all over the Internet, the staid reception that Echoes has received since its domestic release is surprising. Not only that, but itís downright disappointing, especially considering that itís a pretty good record after all. The album finds the Rapture focusing on the two tricks that they know and milking them for all that theyíre worthÖand yes, they finally invested in tuners!
The first trick is to fuse the hard, stringent rhythms of 1980s Todd
Terry-style house music with the arty, postmodern panic of Public Image Limited. That last sentence was just critic-speak for the following equation: four-on-the-floor drum programming + two simple keyboard lines + a guy shouting like heís got a hot poker shoved up his behind = instant dance-punk to get your swerve on to. A saxophone occasionally pops up, but itís used more as a sound effects device than as a melodic embellishment. In ìOlio,î the crack in guitarist Luke Jennerís uncontrollable wail of a voice becomes as rhythmically insistent as the drums and bass. When Jenner shouts, ìI need your love,î in the song of the same name, it sounds more like a frightened cry for help than a come-on. Heís so consumed by fear that he canít even enunciate his words: on the same song, ìVisions of you orî sounds like ìThis is a new world.î The lyrics are printed in Echoesí CD booklet, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you get to make out what Jennerís actually singing; on the other hand, you discover how facile the Raptureís lyrics are. Theyíre at their best when theyíre little more than repetitive catch phrases. Overused metaphors and forced rhyme schemes sabotage all attempts at deeper meaning.
The second, and slightly more impressive, trick is to take the same paranoid funk frenzy and transpose it to the context of a live, four-piece rock band. The songs mentioned in the previous paragraph (along with ìKillingî) rely heavily on synthesizers and programs, and there is very little sonic variation in these songs from one minute to the next. On the other hand, songs like ìHeaven,î ìThe Coming of Spring,î and ìEchoesî use primarily organic instrumentation, which gives the musicians opportunities to add melodic, dynamic, and tempo changes whenever they see fit. All of those songs start out as standard ìdeath disco,î only to mutate into something else. The coda of ìHeavenî slows the music down for a climax of hollered harmonies, splashing cymbals, and irritating saxophone squeaking. ìThe Coming of Springî inserts bursts of clipped white noise taken from a low-quality recording of a live show. ìEchoesî shifts into a double-time punk screech that will turn any dance floor into a mosh pit within seconds. These transitions give the songs real staying power.
The album is expertly sequenced so that the program-driven songs alternate with the guitar-dominated songs. Each song sounds different from the one before it, and no song overstays its welcome. In a stroke of genius, ìHouse of Jealous Loversî is placed right in the middle of the record. Itís the only song on the record in which both the organic and electronic sides of the Rapture seem to function simultaneously and interdependently. When the Rapture strays from either one of these tricks, though, the results are more miss than hit. Their imitations of 1970s Philly soul (ìOpen Up Your Heartî) and Rolling Stones pub-rock (ìLove Is Allî) are terrible, and they only serve to showcase the limitations of Luke Jennerís voice. Frankly, he canít hold a note if it had Velcro attached to it; heís at his best when heís losing his marbles, NOT crooning. The one exception to this is album closer ìInfatuation,î a ballad so quiet and creepy that it sounds as if the band is afraid to touch its instruments. Jennerís choked whispers suit ìInfatuationî well, and the song overall serves as a perfect comedown from the long and thrilling ride of the albumís first ten tracks.
Hereís the final word. No, the members of the Rapture arenít saviors of rock. However, the Rapture knows its strengths, and showcases them well. Theyíre distinctive, and theyíll make you shake your butt in no time. At press time, Echoes is being sold for ten bucks at your local Best Buy. HOP TO IT.