Andy Butler’s dance rock ensemble Hercules and Love Affair have returned with its second release, and though uninitiated listeners might expect a platter of straightforward Erasure-inspired dance-electronica (and there is some of that), there are a few wrinkles that set Blue Songs apart from the rest of the pack.
“Painted Eyes” begins things with an ’80s inspired synthpop pulsating rhythm exercise a la Yaz via New Order, but the elegant disco strings and jazzy flute intro make it the best dancepop since Bronski Beat.
The band introduces some glitch pop static amongst the pops and smacks on the next cut, but there’s little doubt they are still Upstairs at Eric’s on “My House,” and the same can be said of “Answers Come In Dreams.” However, it is refreshing again how organic acoustic sounds are intermixed so integrally with the synthesized electronic flourishes, like the piano and horn sounds on the latter and on the Tom Tom Club redux “Leonora,” although it dissolves into electrospaciness at the end.
The pacing does vary here and there, especially on the meditative and acoustic guitar propelled “Boy Blue” (it’s like The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” meets “Baba O’Riley”) and specifically on the end of the night piano bar slow closer “It’s Alright” (a Sterling Void cover via The Pet Shop Boys) with sirens echoing in the background.
Listeners may have heard critics—sorry, crickets—and birds before, but when have they heard cows, along with clarinets and a marimba? It’s a shame they have to wait until the sixth track to hear all of those elements on the contemplative “Blue Song,” given this record starts with four similar sounding songs.
“Step Up” further cements Hercules and Love Affair’s love affair with the ’80s—this could be a cut from a Chromeo record, as could the spacey “Visitor,” although a more apt analogy might be Gary Numan performing the Miami Vice theme through a filter of electrofunk. “I Can’t Wait” sounds like ’70s disco-funk interpreted by War Games’ computer WOPR. All that’s missing is a sampled contrapuntal “Shall we play a game?” to vocalist Kim Ann Foxman’s lyric “This Ain’t No Game.” (Yo, 8-Bit—pitch these cats a NES remix, pronto.) And yes, that may be a Pac-Man sample in the background.
After having listened to Blue Songs a few times tabula rasa, it comes as no surprise that it was recorded by “techno legend” Patrick Pulsinger (in Vienna), but what is surprising is the other members of Butler’s ensemble (aside from himself and Foxman): Venezuelan singer Aerea Negrot, walk-on fan Shaun Wright, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke and veteran engineer and programmer Mark Pistel of Meat Beat Manifesto and Consolidated fame.
In some ways, though, it’s a shame their contributions aren’t more apparent, because this feels like Butler’s show throughout, and the individual appearances get lost in the mix.
Then again, perhaps that’s the point: Hercules and Love Affair seems designed to be a collective unit, as opposed to just Butler, or just Butler featuring so-and-so on each track. Perhaps he’s taking a lesson from Consolidated’s legendary Myth Of Rock: “This Is A Collective,” after all.
Blue Songs are not entirely blue, for sure, and there are some easily rectified sequencing issues, but overall it’s an entertaining listen.
Hercules and Love Affair – Blue Songs Tracklisting:
- “Painted Eyes”
- “My House”
- “Answers Come in Dreams”
- “Boy Blue”
- “Blue Song”
- “I Can’t Wait”
- “Step Up”
- “It’s Alright”