House Of Jealous Lovers is the single that fixed itself onto the playlist of the more aware radio and club DJs and suggested a band on familiar terms with the spare, fractured, sound that could be heard in areas here in Limeyville in the early ’80s.
Bands like Gang of Four, A Certain Ratio and The Pop Group pioneered stripped-down, post-punk dance music that was a logical extension to the seismic cultural shock of early punk. The buzzsaw guitars of punk were replaced by panicky, nervous guitar stabs, while the rhythm sections owed as much to the tough and muscular sound of the more politicised funk of the ’70s.
That music reflected the pessimism of the times, with many of the bands themselves seeking to define their creed in Neo-Marxist mission statements in the days before Perestroika. Now, with falling figures at the poll booths on both sides of the Atlantic indicating that pessimism is still a premier currency, much of the early ’80s post-punk music sounds like unfinished business. Released into this milieu, The Rapture’s Echoes album sounds perfectly timed, timely, and indeed of the time.
There’s none of the semantic musings or semi-didacticism of the post-punk era, but in its place lies a beguiling anxiety characterised by singer Luke Jenner’s rich catalogue of yelps and shrieks, redolent of Tom Verlaine. It’s possible to discern a post-house music fascination with the dancefloor, with the insistent dance-centred intro to House Of Jealous Lovers, the club keyboards of I Need Your Love and the meaner Killing.
Another single, Olio, makes a repetitive synth figure central to the mix, and rivals House of Jealous Lovers with its stark simplicity versus the latter’s visceral thrill. Olio also sounds like the kind of single that was required of Fischerspooner to justify the hype.
The synths re-appear, bubbling beautifully, for Sister Saviour, an electro-hymn possibly dedicated to the joys of types of party enhancers, complete with a Shaun Ryder-style caterwaul. The range of Luke Jenner’s vocals may well be limited, but along with his guitar playing, he can vary the phrasing. Love Is All wouldn’t sound out of place on Big Star‘s second album.
Leavening out the record are two ballads; Infatuation is a torch ballad, high on the drama of despondency (“you don’t know by now how to take me down”), and Open Up Your Heart generates a warm empathy. Both tracks benefit from a lightness of touch. It takes conscious examination to realise that the band plays fully on either.
There’s enough vaulting ambition and sense of adventure over this album to suggest that The Rapture have enough to shake off the many antecedents that inform this record. As John Lydon sang on the album that sounds like the touchstone for Echoes , PIL‘s Metal Box, the next step could be “getting rid of the albatross”. As good as Echoes is, it could just be the beginning of a great pop adventure.