Three years on from the eponymous nu-disco LP which wowed the world, Hercules and Love Affair offer us up a new course of funky dance tunes to sink our teeth into, yet as a noticeably different outfit to before. At the centre of the hub remains flame-haired DJ Andy Butler, yet around him there’s been an emigration of collaborators, with Nomi Ruiz and Antony Hegarty (without his Johnsons) stepping off ship to make way for more underground artists like Berliner Aerea Negrot and the soulful Shaun Wright to take the step into the house-tinted limelight. With new artists at hand Butler also decided to switch his concentration in decades as well, from the grooves and synths of 70’s disco to the days of early house in the leighties (that’s late eighties for all you squares). Yet it’s not all change, the very recognisable Hercules-esque sonics underlying the whole album are evident from the outset with the jumping violins running through ‘Painted Eyes’ reminiscent of what made the 2008 offering so wonderful.
After the familiarities of ‘Painted Eyes’, Butler then drenches the listener in the waspish electro of ‘My House’, as perfect a slice of pop-house that’ll be heard all year, even with added nonsensical scatting ending the track, it’s the obvious highlight here. The songs continue in expected fashion with smooth vocals and danceable melodies, with piano-funk piece ‘Leonora’ even ending in what seems to be a tuneful dial-up connection. Yet none seem as developed or fully polished as previous tracks like ‘Hercules Theme’ or ‘Blind’. Butler seems to have lost focus whilst attempting to evoke the same passions which drove him to create such great songs as before.
Then the album seems to have a mid-life crisis whereby the tracks mid-way through lose touch completely with the listener. Butler opts to place slow treading guitar track ‘Boy Blue’ before the plodding flute number ‘Blue Song’ which is then followed by the dragging return to soul fused house on ‘Falling’. You could argue that Butler is just trying to expand his palette and the songs truthfully aren’t poor themselves, yet consecutively they come across as confused and misplaced.
Attempting to find itself again, ‘I Can’t Wait’ is a pleasurable enough effort sounding like 80’s computer noises remoulded into mechanical grooves. ‘Whilst Step Up’, featuring vocals from Kele (I love dance music too) Okereke, almost feels like the complete package if only it managed to build upon its initially engaging hook. Yet it ends up feeling repetitive and drawn out despite being the shortest track on the album, which unfortunately seems to be a disappointing regularity with too many songs on the album that start with promise, yet fail to absorb for their full five minutes or so.
Maybe it’s the replacement contributors who we’re to waggle the finger at, for not reaching the vocal highs of the debut. Yet it would be unfair to have expected a recreation or to have wanted an imitation of Antony Hegarty’s sublime offerings from before. Possibly more so Butler is to hold responsibility, as the tracks lack the desire and pure imaginative fun he’d been able to create three years ago. Perhaps it’s simply put that the 80’s house scene just can’t be replicated with as much zeal as 70’s disco can. Whichever way it’s viewed this is the dictionary definition of sophomore slumping. Let’s just hope Butler comes back stronger and not continuing his decade influenced escapade by refashioning 90’s trance next time.
From Rich Flanagan.