When The Rapture went into the studio to record Mirror, their first commercial release, they had already spent a considerable amount of time touring, but there's little indication of this rich history to be found here, as the paucity of creative ideas and amateurish execution that pollute the album (in reality a mere EP, though it's seldom referred to as such despite its extreme brevity) bespeak little in the way of experience or chemistry.
Truth be told, very little is spoken about The Rapture at this early stage of their careers, as for many the band doesn't begin until the release of House Of Jealous Lovers, the single that instantly catapulted them to the upper echelons of the contemporary indie rock scene. Nevertheless, no matter how justified listeners might be in paying little heed to the group's humble origins, the early days of The Rapture are as essential in documenting the band's development as the much lauded single, and in reality aren't as far removed from their later work as many would like to believe.
The Rapture are generally branded a 'post-punk' band, a nebulous label that, through excessive abuse, has long since ceased to mean anything. In the process of explicating the band's style, however, it should definitely be noted that The Rapture harbor rather pronounced Goth overtones, complete with a vocalist who emulates The Cure's Robert Smith in a performance that straddles the line between homage and outright impersonation.
At this juncture The Rapture tend to favor rather spare arrangements, but this isn't the eloquent, haunting minimalism of early Dire Straits; rather, whereas Knopfler's work was always informed by a certain artistry and intelligence, The Rapture's sparse style is largely adopted to mask their instrumental inadequacies and conceal their creative bankruptcy.
It's clear that The Rapture weren't especially adept at songwriting during their early days, but this weakness isn't even the band's greatest liability, as it's their immaturity as artists that truly sabotages Mirror.
This immaturity primarily manifests itself through the excessive dissonance that pervades almost the entire album. A lack of strong melodies is an egregious shortcoming, but it's the rampant discord that makes much of Mirror an ordeal to sit through.
This becomes evident from the moment the sirens blare at the opening of NOTES>>>, soon to be reinforced by the shrill, grating vocals that accompany that onerous track. Worse still that song must be suffered through twice, as the album ends with a reworked version; it's a pity that this 'reworking' doesn't address any of the myriad flaws that the track possesses.
There actually is one solid track; OLiO boasts a solid riff and alluring moody atmospherics, but best of all it eschews the noxious dissonance that permeates the album, making for a listening experience that can be enjoyed without reservation. Even the vocal performance is particularly strong, as it's more of a straight Robert Smith facsimile as opposed to one of the usual manic variations.
Elsewhere, AlieNation is unremarkable but inoffensive, making it one of the better tracks on the album, while the instrumentals, in finite clock! and Dusk at Maureen's, are too short and nondescript to amount to anything either positive or negative.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the album is devoted to headache-inducing, sonically twisted cacophony, from the irksome FRAMESFrAMESFRaMes to the incessant aural battery of the title track. Nearly every element of such songs, from the poor vocals to the structural primitivism to the reckless, failed pretensions, conspire to make the tracks nearly unbearable, or at the very least highly unpleasant experiences.
Thus Mirror is hardly what one would call an auspicious debut. One may call it an avant garde experiment, an unorthodox pop album or basic lo-fi indie rock, but it's clear that it fails on every one of those levels, with very little in the way of merit to redeem it at all. Olio is a decent enough track but it shows up on the subsequent album anyway, leaving little save morbid curiosity to recommend even a single listen.
It's been proven time and again that, however briefly, a single song can elevate any group to the pinnacle of rock and roll superstardom. Such was the case when the jerky, eminently dance-friendly anthem, House Of Jealous Lovers, transfigured the obscure post-punk act The Rapture into the latest flavor of the week, a coveted if ephemeral position that a mere few years earlier had seemed unattainable for the dissonance-fetishizing, wholly unremarkable rock outfit.
Doubtlessly no sane individual exposed to the debacle that was Mirror would have surmised that The Rapture would find their true calling in the arena of electronica-drenched dance pop, yet their surprise entry into this musical avenue not only accounts for their commercial success, but also constitutes the impetus for most of the best tracks on their sophomore effort, Echoes.
Thus tracks like I Need Your Love, The Coming Of Spring and the aforementioned uber-hit House Of Jealous Lovers all qualify as highlights, and all adhere to these dance-pop blueprints. Such can also be said for the album's zenith, the hyper catchy pop tune Sister Savior, an edgy electronica-propelled opus that features some of the best vocals in the band's oeuvre.
A group as chronically flawed as The Rapture could never sustain this level of quality for the duration of a full-length album, however, and the erratic tendencies that plague Echoes are a testament to this inescapable deficiency.
The album opens on a decent enough note with the Mirror-import Olio, a number that's been reborn through the magic of higher production values. Truth be told I'm not sure if the track benefits from a fuller arrangement, but at the very least its inclusion is welcome enough, as it's the only song from band's debut that truly deserved to be salvaged.
While I wouldn't say that the album goes awry with its second track, the material certainly begins to betray the weaknesses inherent to The Rapture, as Heaven is a generic mediocrity suffering from a lack of a compelling melody and some consummately grating vocals (particularly in the noxious a capella passages).
The third track, Open Up Your Heart, is the very definition of a misfire, an emotionally earnest attempt at genuinely moving the listener. Anyone even remotely acquainted with The Rapture would know that such a feat is well beyond the band's meager capabilities, and the resultant product is an enervated, bloated and tedious affair that dispels any momentum cultivated in the early part of the album.
After a surprisingly successful middle portion the group once again succumb to their worst excesses. Accordingly the title track and Killing are maddeningly primitive forays into the dismal world of post punk, sporting melodies so rudimentary that they barely even register.
Love Is All isn't much better, as it's little more than a bland backdrop over which the group spout romanticized banalities. Elsewhere the closer, Infatuation, stumbles in its attempts at being menacing, lacking the substance to credibly elicit any kind of meaningful response from the listener.
Despite its egregious flaws, Echoes is still a tremendous improvement over Mirror, containing five genuinely solid numbers and little that's quite as offensive as the worst content off their debut. Thus Echoes can be said to be half a good album, whereas Mirror couldn't even claim to be a third of a decent EP.
While this progress is refreshing, it doesn't change the fact that The Rapture don't even seem to understand their own strengths and limitations. Thus I have no clue what inspired the band to believe that they could be touching on an emotional level, nor can I find reason in the group's reluctance to emphasize their electronica-driven dance pop which is clearly one of the few areas in which they excel.
Furthermore, the group's unhealthy fixation with The Cure only serves to magnify their defects. As enjoyable as tracks like I Need Your Love are, they can't compare to the Cure's similar yet superior brand of dance pop as exemplified in numbers like Why Can't I Be You? This emulation also results in more irksome attempts at aping Robert Smith's vocals, leading one to speculate that if this half-baked parody is the extent of their abilities in that department than the vocalist's true voice must be the most grating sound in the history of rock music.
Thus Echoes is a decent affair that's marginally redeemed by the fact that, flawed as it is, it's still substantially better than anything that I thought The Rapture capable of. There were few indications of any latent potential presented on Mirror, so the band should at least be commended for exceeding one's jaded expectations.
While this is certainly damning with faint praise the reality is that a good chunk of the album is actually quite enjoyable, meriting at least a modicum of praise from any listener. As long as the group remains this inconsistent, however, they'll never evolve into a truly formidable presence on the modern rock scene, a pity given that on Echoes they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're not without their share of musical talent.
For a group as inherently limited as The Rapture, a certain measure of self-awareness is integral to any of their endeavors. This isn't the brand of childish, forced and 'edgy' self-awareness that pervades would-be satirical opuses like Whoo! Alright Yeah…Uh Huh, but rather a keen understanding of one's own strengths and weaknesses that informs one's creative and artistic direction.
It becomes abundantly clear after prolonged exposure to The Rapture's early work that the band lacked this awareness at the beginning of their careers, as those consummately flawed products are characterized by a pronounced lack of a guiding intelligence, leaving nothing to dictate what areas the group should or shouldn't explore, hence debacles like Mirror that are mired in ubiquitous, headache-inducing dissonance and unfulfilled pretensions.
Fortunately, by their third album The Rapture have begun to understand their limitations, at least to a certain extent. The discordant soundscapes have been noticeably toned down, the band wisely abstains from balladry and there's an unmistakable emphasis on electronica-drenched dance-pop, a genre in which, as evidenced on Echoes, the band is amply gifted.
Ergo this formula, eschewing one's weaknesses and embracing one's strengths, sounds like a formula that's eminently conducive toward success, doubtlessly resulting in a timeless masterwork. Sadly, by no means is Pieces Of The People We Love a masterwork, and it's not terribly difficult to guess why.
Part of The Rapture's status as a limited group is that they're not masters of any genre, even one that appears to be their forte. While they may be markedly talented in certain areas, there's no field in which they're a top tier ensemble, resulting in an oeuvre that will never transcend the level of 'solid.' Still, a solid album is nothing to scoff at, and at the very least Pieces Of The People We Love is vastly superior to The Rapture's previous output.
One of the album's greatest assets is that the band have become quite adept at generating hooks, resulting in a decidedly poppier affair than the works that precede it. Thus virtually every track on the album is quite catchy, something that could not be said of The Rapture's previous work.
Unfortunately, as anyone who's been subjected to contemporary mainstream music knows, catchiness is not always a good thing. There are numerous tracks on Pieces Of The People We Love that, while catchy, are also extraordinarily grating. This results in the type of song that one will wish to immediately purge from one's mental jukebox, yet will invariably end up on 'repeat mode' for weeks after having first heard it. Thus moments like the coda of Whoo! Alright Yeah…Uh Huh will become irrevocable additions to one's mental play-list, reverberating from every corner of one's psyche with no sign of relief in sight.
Fortunately The Rapture are also capable of dance-pop of a much higher order, albeit in a poppier form than the likes of House Of Jealous Lovers. The opener Don Gon Do It is a hook-filled delight, as is the hyper catchy title track. Numbers like this can certainly be interpreted as guilty pleasures, as they're slight bordering on nonexistent and rather vacuous in most departments, but this doesn't dilute the impact of their melodies, nor should one ever forego an experience just because it could be construed as lacking in depth or substance.
Calling Me is a unique entry in the band's canon, a darker, more serious venture that actually works surprisingly well, perhaps in part due to the presence of guest-producer Danger Mouse (whose other production cameo is on the aforementioned title track). Other highlights include the poppy charm of The Sound (admittedly not from a lyrical perspective, however) and the immensely entertaining The Devil.
While the band has learned some lessons, there remains wisdom that has yet to sink in. Simply put, The Rapture lack the capacity to make a meaningful artistic statement on either an artistic or intellectual level. This time around the group struggles for relevance through the medium of 'scathing' indictments of the record industry, uniformly pedestrian efforts that lack the bite of a Have A Cigar or the charm and conciseness of So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star. These self-referential narratives contribute little of worth to the album, but at least they're easier to drown out than the dissonance that dominated The Rapture's prior compositions.
Unfortunately, while more consistent than Echoes, Pieces Of The People We Love is still an erratic product, with the likes of Get Myself Into It and First Gear qualifying as filler. Both songs are certainly catchy to a degree, but they conform to the brand of cruel memorability alluded to earlier.
While some may say that the band sold out, I vehemently disagree, or perhaps simply don't care, as I infinitely prefer the 'pop' sound that defines Pieces Of The People We Love over their previous artier, pretentious and abrasive style. The Rapture's main strength lies in their hook-filled dance-pop, and it appear that the group have finally recognized this reality. Thus while it may not be flawless, top tier dance-pop, Pieces Of The People We Love is still entertaining, which is more than can be said for some of their earlier work.