n late 2002, the Rapture’s breakthrough single “House Of Jealous Lovers” turned hip dance clubs around the world upside-down. Thundering disco rhythms, yelping vocals, slashing guitars, and one motherfucker of a cow bell combined for a dancefloor monster not heard since the days of Gang Of Four. Now, nearly a year later, the quartet find themselves anointed as the leaders of a new “punk funk” scene, and signed with the uber-hip DFA imprint, no less. Massive hype and future stardom beckon.
Apparently, the Rapture didn’t get the memo. While their major label debut, Echoes, is a worthy debut full of energy, creativity, and promise, it falters when it strays too far from the sound that got them here. There is plenty of high-quality material—enough to recommend the album even—but you can’t help thinking that with more judicious editing and fewer forced genre exercises, this could have been a truly stellar affair. As it is, it’s merely good—and at times, very good. But that’s what makes it frustrating. The Rapture seem to be merely treading water when they could have been walking on it.
Opener “Olio” and “I Need Your Love” are uninspiring early-80s style electro pop numbers; some of the other tracks simply lack anything to distinguish them from a hundred other bands, save Luke Jenner’s faintly annoying vocals, sounding at times like an aggravated Robert Smith. And that’s not a good thing at all, especially over the course of a full LP’s worth of material. But really, the album kicks off on such a bum note that it’s hard to imagine how the Rapture plan to get things back on track. That they succeed in doing it is a statement of the quality and talent of the band.
When the Rapture get cooking—starting with track five, “The Coming Of Spring”—they really do sound like something special, the perfect blend of their disparate influences. From that point on, Echoes rolls along with a steamroller’s energy, and the album is officially saved from becoming a muddled mess. But oh, what could have been. I would be tempted to say that the band should stick to EPs and the like, if it wasn’t for the fact that their 2001 Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks EP on Sub Pop suffered from the exact same malady.
One hates to frown on a band’s ambition, but you may find yourself hoping that next time out the band plays to their strengths the whole way through. I’m all for a band trying to experiment with different genres and styles, but when the results are so goddamned awful—and truthfully, here they are—someone in the band’s camp needs to step up and say something. I’m not saying that the Rapture need to make a whole LPs worth of nothing but driving disco tracks like “Jealous Lovers,” just that they exercise a bit more quality control with the material they throw into the mix. I look forward to the day when I can look back at the Echoes era as the time when the Rapture had not yet found their true musical identity, rather than the as the time when they blew their shot at the big time. I’m betting (and hoping) on the former rather than the latter.