he gritty push-pull of the Rakes’ debut, Capture/Release, a shameless Clash tribute perched atop the snake charmer of a single “22 Grand Job,” has been more or less shirked for their second album, Ten New Messages. Here, a precise and cleaner production reveals, perhaps, a cleaner band. A shameless online encyclopedic perusal reveals that the Rakes provided a fifteen-minute soundtrack to uppermost-crust designer Christian Dior’s recent runway show for his Dior Homme line, a song which here appears in five-minute form as “The World Was a Mess But His Hair Was Perfect.” Top designers may haunt the band (another based a collection around the Rakes’ style), but the band itself haunts a close, vaguely incestuous circle of post-punk holders-on. Here they prove that intense involvement with one’s peers can actually do a career good—if only that involvement didn’t taint an already fading trend with die-hard consistency.
There’s a crisp, Spartan resolve to every melody in this fashion plate foursome’s follow-up, beginning with “Hair” and perfecting itself around late addition “When Tom Cruise Cries,” which glosses its guitars with the light reverb and delicate plucking of the Police. “Tom” is strong and sure, harnessed on a strum pattern that hovers around three or four notes. Similarly, the following track, “Time to Stop Talking,” relies on the jumpy, head-nodding, rapid heartbeat of tinselly drums and an easy, memorable guitar riff—another three-note, drawn-out arpeggio. It’s common for the stringed instruments of post-punk fallouts to mimic percussion with their taut, metered, occasionally mundane and anonymous precision. Perhaps the best example of this of late is Bloc Party, and the Rakes are no strangers to that energy; in fact, they’re tight.
The Rakes have hunkered down here, to a degree that Bloc Party does on another, more scenic avenue. For the most part the bands are dissimilar. The Rakes fill out and color their compositions with a crisp production and layered sound: “Little Superstitions” is highly reminiscent of the Strokes, but its multiple guitar lines, one carrying through the entire track, the other entering at the chorus; its wallowing keyboard cameos; the drums’ soldierly chorus; and the stupidly simple but heartrending vocal cameo of, “Yeah, I say forever / And you just say whatever” late in the song provide a deeper structure and a superior song to many of Capture/Release’s attempts.
There’s still dingy brunt to bear, as on the low-octave, grating intro to “Trouble,” but the resolved chords in the verse add pounds to another full-figured song. The chorus has a couple of dull half-step chord progressions reminiscent of a million little Arctic Monkeys, Libertines, and Maximo Park pieces, but a sonorous bridge of background guitars and a xylophone saves the song from being stock. Not every track fares as well, but there are more good melodies here than catchphrase duds.
‘Good’ is one thing; whether the band is adventurous is another matter. In the wake of this surprisingly robust trend in radio-ready rock, in which the genre has actually eclipsed pop in popularity, at least in the U.K., it would be a pleasure to see a set of “messages” that go beyond high-energy, post-punk platitudes. There is an immediacy and zest to the Rakes’ latest effort that is commendable, but it’s not that memorable. Sit on Messages for a couple of weeks and one is sufficiently entertained, but there is another ominous message lurking beneath the bassline: a bubble is about to burst if a guitarist somewhere, somehow doesn’t do something original—quick.