Hallelujah! The Rapture are back. It’s been a minute since we last heard from them, most notably 5 years ago with the release of their second album “Pieces of the People We Love”. Where have they been since then? Well, as some bands do, there was an upheaval and personnel change that went down, complete with the personal lives of a band member or two taking a hit as well. First it was frontman Luke Jenner that quit tha band, and he had a number of things going on in his life, from reaffirming his spirituality to the birth of his son to the tragedy that saw his mother pass away. Eventually he would return though, and bassist/co-frontman Mattie Safer would quit the band. The reasons and the politics are less important than the band choosing to carry on. Now functioning as a three piece, the boys took their time in recording their third full length. The biggest hurdle facing them was how to continue evolving their sound from the original dance punk mold that has now become old hat. It was wearing super thin on their last album, and it’s even thinner now. Yet dance music itself keeps developing new and interesting quirks, even if The Rapture aren’t ones to try out a certain sound just because it’s popular. A song like “House of Jealous Lovers” was a huge hit when it came out precisely because it was unlike anything else out there at the time. So largely keeping the grooves but tweaking them further away from guitar-based shimmy, “In the Grace of Your Love” marks the band’s return to the big leagues. Back at home on their original record label DFA, the hope is to recapture the hearts and minds of the disaffected dancefloor junkies.
If you’ve heard the first single off “In the Grace of Your Love”, then you know The Rapture have proven they can still write a hit song. “How Deep Is Your Love” plays out like a 6.5 minute manifesto upon which the band rebuilds their church. Guitars are nowhere to be found in the early going, instead the song settles into a strong groove thanks to some briskly paced beats and piano, which together have roots in House music. Halfway through, there’s a breakdown to handclaps and vocals before a frenetic saxophone shifts the song into third gear and carries it home the best way it knows how. That single song is better than anything that appeared on “Pieces of the People We Love”, and while it’s not ahead of its time, by no means is it behind either. What’d be wonderful is to say that the rest of the record is as good as that single song. Unfortunately that’s not the case, but it’s certainly not without a lack of trying.
Every song on “In the Grace of Your Love” has some sort of groove to it, and essentially you can throw a full-on dance party with just this album, but not in the way you might expect. The Rapture can’t seem to resist a strong beat, but what they do with that beat keeps everyone on their toes. Rather than playing to what they know full well are their strengths, they use the majority of the new album to mess around with varied textures and instruments for the sake of both mixing it up and proving they’re more than just a flash in the pan. They’re smart to avoid guitar-propelled melodies, instead choosing to place emphasis on the much more current trend of synths. That’s evident straight from the beginning of the record with the hard-charging “Sail Away”. For the energy it tries to bring, there’s not quite enough variation in the melody to hold your interest, but Jenner’s strong vocal performance makes it worthwhile. Also, a weird, psychedelic keyboard breakdown in the final 90 seconds of the song is unexpected and challenging and a step in the right direction. A more guitar-based melody shows up on “Blue Bird”, but it’s not the frenetic strumming that dance punk typically propogates. The drums do all the heavy lifting, while Jenner adopts a falsetto that is more annoying and strained than it is charming. Crafting a dance track out of a few accordion notes and finger snaps is unconventional in itself, and “Come Back to Me” spends its first half doing just that. The mid-track breakdown into something much more sparse and synth-based seems inspired until it never builds to anything and simply peters out. One of the greatest sins on this album comes courtesy of the title track, a song that not only goes nowhere, but has the gall to be so lyrically threadbare that it’s almost a joke. After Jenner repeats the word “heaven” a bunch of times near the middle of the song’s 5.5 minute duration, he resorts to a non-verbal sing-along with the melody via “la la’s” and “whoa’s”.
The second half of the record fares a bit better. The disco funk-meets-horn-section of “Never Die Again” at least has some creative instrumental mojo going for it. Meanwhile both “Roller Coaster” and “Can You Find A Way?” feel Talking Heads inspired, but in completely different ways. Jenner tries to embody David Byrne with his vocal performance on the marked slowness of the former, while the band gets all hopped up and electro-funky on the latter. To close out “In the Grace of Your Love”, the slow jam “It Takes Time to Be A Man” appears to try and hug it out in the style of “Lean On Me”. You just want to find a friend, throw your arm over his or her shoulder, and sway back and forth. There’s a positive message to the song too, and it’d be a lot more effective were the melody not so schmaltzy. Jenner’s voice is not a good fit for a track with this sort of emotional heft and tempo. The song may be trying to leave you feeling good, but it feels closer to an ill-fitting betrayal. Looking at this record purely from a lyrics perspective though, there’s plenty more to find out of place. Given that they’ve always been a dance rock band and that dance music in general doesn’t need anything close to intelligent lyrics to work, The Rapture have never been known for coming up with brilliant wordplay. Considering their variations in style and some of the sonic experiments/risks they take here though, they’ve stepped away from their direct line to the dance floor just a bit and it makes those lyrical shortcomings that much more obvious.
For those blissful few minutes that were “How Deep Is Your Love”, it was easy to say that The Rapture had risen from the dead and returned to take the believers with them into the next realm while everyone else was left behind. The thing is, the band seems to be the ones that were left behind, and they’re now trying to play catch up. They spend much of “In the Grace of Your Love” playing around with variations on different musical styles, virtually all of them worth their salt when tested in the clubs. Yet there always seems to be one flaw or another that makes itself known on an otherwise lovely track. Plus, the shuffling around in song types makes the band seem a little indecisive and uncomfortable. They’re clearly aware that dance punk is not going to work for them anymore, but they’re not exactly sure what will. Once they find that new niche, whether it’s exploiting something fresh and popular or just sticking to a tried and true formula that has been working for bands for decades, they’ll likely be better off. Losing Mattie Safer probably didn’t help much either. If we learned one thing from this new album, it’s that The Rapture are much more versatile than originally thought. Hopefully next time they can use that to an advantage.
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