Towards the end of the post-punk era of 1978-1984 many of the original punks and post-punks moved onto the dance floor and into the pop charts. Bands like Human League, ABC, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire, Scritti Politti, New Order, and even Gang Of Four, were releasing radio-friendly dance music. It sort of makes sense that today’s post-punk revivalists might want to make a similar move.
New York’s The Rapture took a step in this direction with their 2003 single ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’, a searing slab of disco-noise. Their latest release, ‘Pieces Of The People We Love’, takes the ‘Lovers’ sound, and reshapes it into an album’s worth of fabulously funky pop tunes, reminiscent of New York’s ‘mutant disco’ of the early 80s, the minimalist sound of bands like Bush Tetras and Liquid Liquid, and most of all, Talking Heads, in particular, their 1980 album ’Remain in Light’.
The song most likely to draw comparisons with Talking Heads is album centrepiece ‘Whoo! Alright Yeah… Uh Huh’. This song sets the sonic template for the album – prominent bass, flickering guitars, bleeping and burping synths and a multitude of beats – all intricately interwoven over a steady dance groove. Lyrically too, the song reveals the band’s ‘manifesto’ for the album. Or, should I say, its ‘anti-manifesto’.
People don’t dance no more
They just stand there like this
They cross their arms and stare you down
And drink and moan and diss
‘Pieces Of The People We Love’ turns its back on the serious indie-types and their ‘crap rock poetry’ and celebrates the pop song. Elsewhere the lyrics seem provocatively simplistic – from the ‘Na-na-na, Na-na-na’ of the title track to the ‘love/above, kept/wept’ rhymes of ‘The Devil’.
In ‘First Gear’ – a kind of synth-funk driving song – singer, Luke Jenner, delivers a series of dopey sex-as-car/driving images before the backing vocalists join him in the ‘My My My My Mustang Ford’ refrain. It’s deliriously silly, as is the orgasmic yelp in the aforementioned ‘Devil’, and the Tom Tom Club-like call-and-response vocals of ‘Whoo! Alright Yeah…’
But while the emphasis is on the beat rather than the brain, these songs aren’t exactly slick disco retreads. There’s enough noise and warped sentiment to give them a little edge. ‘The Sound’, for example, features a wall of clattering rhythms and buzzing electronics, while opening track ‘Don Gon Do It’ embellishes the bouncing synth-bass and singalong chorus with screeching guitars.
Another highlight is ‘Down For So Long’. Like ‘Whoo! Alright-Yeah…’ it pieces together twitching electronics with intricate rhythm sounds to create something that wouldn’t sound out of place on Talking Heads’ ‘Speaking in Tongues’. (Even its vague references to ‘the man upstairs’ echo the lyrical preoccupations of David Byrne.)
The less successful tracks are those that stray from the pop-funk model. ‘Calling Me’ is built around a slower, shuffling rhythm and a tune that lacks the celebratory feel of the rest of the album. Closing track ‘Live In Sunshine’ suffers from a similar problem, but manages to overcome the slow pace by projecting an appropriately ‘sunny’ outlook with its ringing guitars and gospel-flavoured backing vocals
‘Pieces Of The People We Love’ is the type of album that is becoming increasingly rare. It dares to bridge the gap between the ‘popular’ and the ‘alternative’, a reminder of the days when it was acceptable for a ‘serious’ band to play dance music.