The Rakes’ debut album, Capture/Release, didn’t quite carve out the niche some supporters hoped it would. It was too varied and rough around the edges for some, too retro – the New Romantic electronica on Strasbourg – or strangely street-level in tone – 22 Grand Job – for a bunch of university rockers.
Personally I liked the scratchy, jangling nature of some of the tunes, the way the intelligent structure of the lyrics didn’t quite sit with the subject matter, and the way they could swerve around between Bauhaus riffs and cheerfully spiky Jam-style bass-led rhythms.
Ten New Messages should answer many of their old detractors, but may disgruntle an equal number of fans. The sound is very tight but lighter in places, the production much smoother thanks to Jim Abiss who’s recently gained kudos for his work with Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian. Lead singer Alan Donohoe sounds much more assured, and still as world-weary as ever. The trademark cleverness is still there, of course, and the album kicks off with the delightfully titled World Was A Mess But His Hair Was Perfect, which continues their examination of the life of the modern urban singleton begun in Capture/Release.
Somehow The Rakes continue to manage to be part of the world they’re critiquing, the quiet, clever boys in the corner of the pub who only get leery after a few pints. But there’s a new edginess in their world view, from the war party scenario of the first single, the catchy We Danced Together, to the clever narrative of Suspicious Eyes, which uses multiple perspectives to document the uneasy racism in London in the days immediately after 7/7.
The always uncertain relationship between man and city becomes tinge with fear in When Tom Cruise Cries, a driven song describing someone’s attempt to locate a friend following a catastrophe – catching sight of a television showing a Tom Cruise film the narrator realises the actor’s tears are no more real than the headlines about the event he’s caught up in being offered by new broadcasts.
Not all the songs are keepers – On A Mission seems to have lost its tune despite a tight bass line – but overall the album is mature, almost conceptual reflection on the pressures of city life with violence round the corner, terrorism never far away (at least in our imaginations), and political unrest fermenting.
It’s rounded off with Leave The City And Come Home, a scattershot collection of imagery looking back on moving to London, which ends with the once-eager narrator boarding the night bus and planning his escape.