The Rapture released the lead single and, later, the rest of the songs from its new album, In the Grace of Your Love, with videos of the records playing on a Technics turntable. This cute retro detail wasn’t so surprising given DFA Records’s penchant for hip marketing devices, but it was still an important statement: For all of its polished production work, the album is a palpably, even defiantly, physical object. The lead single, “How Deep Is Your Love?,” is propelled by an aggressive piano chord that you can feel in your gut. Unlike the Strokes’ miserable Angles, this album wasn’t assembled from disparate parts in the digital ether, recorded piecemeal by bandmates too removed from each other and the project to work together. It’s a cohesive and singular album clearly made by three artists in a recording studio. And compared to some of the dance-punk fizz released by DFA’s more recent acts (Holy Ghost, Yacht), it sounds like it has plenty of muscle and sweat behind it—a refreshing reminder that, above all else, the Rapture is a rock band.
But not just any rock band. Guitarist/vocalist Luke Jenner recently said that, unlike some of their peers, especially James Murphy, the Rapture “never claimed our space.” If In the Grace of Your Love is any indication, that space is still very much evolving: Various blogs were quick to point out upon its release that “How Deep Is Your Love?” does away with much of the post-punk pretense of the band’s early work. The heart of the beat is pure house, and Jenner’s vocals are powerfully, almost unbearably soulful—the work of someone who’s been through some shit or studied up on his James Brown or both. Somewhere around the three-minute mark, the whole thing breaks down into handclaps, noisy saxophone riffs, and Jenner seemingly howling into the void, “Hallelujah, hallelujah.”
That’s not the only suggestion of the divine. For a band most famous for asking its audience to “shake down,” the Rapture has gone to church in a very big way, and they’ve brought their synths with them. “Children” sounds sort of like a MGMT song gone to a funeral: Church bells ring and Jenner asks his “only son” to “wait for me before you die.” The press notes refer to In the Grace of Your Love as the group’s “most personal” effort to date, but it might be more appropriate to call it their most deadly serious. And while it might seen distasteful or simply lazy to point to the suicide of Jenner’s mother five years ago as an explanation, it’s a hard fact to ignore: Shortly after 2006’s Pieces of the People We Love, the singer called it quits, later saying that the personal tragedy forced him to reconcile fractured relationships with his father, his wife, and ultimately, his band. His lyrics here are addressed to many nameless, invisible subjects, but the emotional effect on Jenner is obvious. On the beautiful title track, he cries over a siren, seemingly gasping for air, “Don’t want you dead.”
Jenner is working through love on many levels: day-to-day love, spiritual love, and the painful but undeniable love for the ones who leave us. In the process, he asks some difficult questions of himself and the people around him about what it means, essentially, to be a good person. “It Takes Time to Be a Man” is a coda about growing up and moving on. “I bet you can’t get what you want/C’mon baby, c’mon darling,” he dares, and asks us to “trust in your brother.” It fades out with, once again, a sax and the chanting of “hallelujah,” here stretched out to a slower, softer “hal—le—lu—jah.” At the band’s recent show in Brooklyn, Jenner dedicated the song to his wife of 10 years, lending it an even more loaded context.
If all of this sounds a bit like dad rock, well, it’s not. Jenner is too smart, too complicated to summarize life’s big questions in easy aphorisms; he’s much more interested in suggesting them. His lyrics are elliptical, evocative, relying on repeated phrases and open spaces where a listener can feel like he or she fits in. It’s also not the most surprising departure for the band. After all, their debut under DFA, Echoes, included a few notably simple songs about love, especially the gorgeous “Love Is All.” By the same token, they haven’t given up any of what made them vital in the first place. The beats are never less than generous, thanks largely to Gabriel Andruzzi’s reliably inventive multi-instrumentalism (what exactly are those accordion sounds on “Come Back to Me”?).
If there’s a major difference here, it’s that the Rapture has never sounded so confident in what they’re doing. Jenner’s voice lacks the same nervous energy it had on the band’s last two albums; his words are often huge and soaring, as on the chorus of “Sail Away.” In an otherwise positive review of Pieces of the People We Love, Robert Christgau wrote that “none of it means a damn thing beyond what it is.” If anything, In the Grace of Your Love is a refutation of that oft-perpetuated idea. There’s certainly a lot to dance to, but it’s never felt so much like the band wants to be heard. The central question of “How Deep Is Your Love?,” like so many of the album’s inquiries, is meant for much more than a jilted lover. The band has put their heart on the line, and they want you to know that, indeed, they mean it.
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