Some bands you just can’t help but like. Whether it’s their style, their music, or the desperate shagability of the lead singer, some groups just strike a chord. With Hercules And Love Affair, it’s the untrammelled joy of a musical passion burst into life through a troupe of unique flamboyance. Replete with transsexual vocalists and a utopian love of New York disco circa 1975, the band are an evolving blend of house and slow-funk beats, Hawaiian lesbians and B-Boys, fronted by the DJ/songwriter Andy Butler – a man whose own career started in a Denver leather bar under the watchful gaze of a hostess named (what else?) Chocolate Thunder Pussy.
Hercules’ first album was a seminal homage to the mid ’70s-’80s disco scene, revived and reworked by Butler with the counter-intuitive, but utterly wonderful, injection of Antony Hegarty’s alluringly maudlin vocal. Together, they evoked the pulse and throb of the once vibrant disco movement before its reputation and growth were curbed by the explosion of AIDS, and the long shadow it has cast ever since. Lead single Blind was an effervescent but poignant slab of modern disco that, on release, encapsulated the vibrant craft of the Hercules project and, now, serves as just one more reason to dribble excitedly at Butler and co’s new release, Blue Songs.
For album number two, Hegarty has moved on. In his place are Venezuelan Aereat Negrot, the wonderful neo-Sylvester pipings of Shaun Wright and, perhaps surprisingly, Kele Okereke – proving just how far he’s travelled on his indie-dance journey by landing one of the album’s stand-out tracks in Step Up. The band themselves have also moved on – from DFA to Moshi Moshi.
Blue Songs retains Butlers’ thirst for the revival – in once more re-awakening the skittish beats, loops and drive of disco on the Patrick Cowley-esque Falling, the Gamble and Huff strings of Painted Eyes, or the late-’80s house of upcoming single, My House. Butler himself references Brian Eno, and the more ethereal strands of Ultramarine, in his music and, here too, the album picks apart its technical reference points with an impressive relish. But it’s clear that the album is a widening of the canvas. There’s a lot of space given to slower tracks – the meandering Blue Song, and the ponderous Boy Blue (written by Butler aged 15 in dedication to shaven-headed Pope-basher Sinead O’Connor). These are well delivered, and display a solidity that lends the essential darker hues to disco’s sometimes overly glitzy palette.
But while the down-beats anchor the album, they also lend a certain schizophrenia. Blue Songs sticks to its genre, but seems intent on exploring the whole of it, and so begins, at times, to feel a little lost. Each track is perfectly formed, and, standalone, works well – but the album does feel like a DJ picking favourite tracks from an exhaustive, but exhaustingly large, selection.
Hercules have furthered their ambitions on Blue Songs, drawing more of the late-great disco scene into a modern vehicle. Yet it’s an album that does many things well but nothing to perfection. Butler has the feel of a collector and, over time, his work will either seem more complete, or more disparate. But his passion to live out what he loves is clear, and that you just can’t help but like.