Review : Hercules and Love Affair - Blue Songs
PopmattersIn 2008, Hercules and Love Affair released their self-titled debut, which became one of the most acclaimed albums of the year. It was the brainchild of New York composer-producer Andrew Butler, who enlisted the tremulous singer Antony Hegarty (of Antony & the Johnsons) to warble out most of his impossibly catchy earworms. Together, the pair created a sleek sound that sat somewhere between vintage 1970s disco and LCD Soundsystem: indebted to its roots, no doubt, but not confined by them.
On Blue Songs, Butler’s follow-up to the darling that was Hercules and Love Affair, he shows the same penchant for futurist beat craft and compellingly androgynous vocalists. Unfortunately, the strides Hercules and Love Affair have made in the right direction are mostly canceled out by some puzzling choices scattered throughout the album. Kind of like Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat. You know—two steps forward, two steps back. The most egregious of these choices is Butler’s dismissal of disco in favor of a more contemporary dance hall powerhouse: early ‘90s house. In many ways, the club music being made in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s is the logical successor to disco; after the punk-infused electronic of New Wave, the R&B-tinged house music that topped the charts returned to disco’s opulence and flamboyance. But unless you’re feeling extra-nostalgic for (or even tolerant of) acts like Ace of Base, Haddaway and Right Said Fred, Blue Songs is going to be a haul for you. It’s like spending an hour with the brothers from A Night at the Roxbury, painful head jerks and all.
The switch-up briefly seems to work for Hercules and Love Affair on opener “Painted Eyes”, perhaps because the DNA of the song is still heavily rooted in the disco that made the group’s debut so enjoyable. Venezuelan singer Aerea Negrot does a more-than-passable Hegarty impression, and the string hook that pops up throughout the song gives it a great ‘70s vibe. But the rest of the time, you end up with songs like “My House”, the lead single you swear you remember from 20 years ago. It’s easily the most memorable thing here, and there’s honestly plenty to like: the hook is catchy, the beat is very danceable, and all the synth and organ stabs immediately call to mind the best, cheesiest songs of the “Everybody Dance Now” era. But singer Shaun Wright’s vocals are uncomfortably off-key, seemingly on purpose. And Butler and company squander their good graces by peppering the beginning of the song with joke sound effects from a Casio keyboard, then filling the last minute of the song with ridiculous, inexplicable scat noises....full text
GuardianHercules and Love Affair's eponymous debut was lovingly crafted revivalism that avoided mere mimicry via big, anthemic hooks and full-blooded performances. Its successor, Blue Songs, is also composed of immaculately produced house and disco, but the two most charismatic vocalists from the last go-round, Antony Hegarty and Nomi Ruiz, are absent – as, for the most part, are the songs. Matching their 2008 anthem Blind might have been too much to ask, but too much of Blue Songs sounds rote and empty. Not all: the hard-jacking, mechanical I Can't Wait has a single-minded focus, while Boy Blue begins as a pastoral ballad that lifts gorgeously into space. But it is dispiriting to hear Andy Butler attempt to faithfully recreate his own music, without any of its previous magic, on Painted Eyes and Falling. Blue Songs often sounds third-hand: pastiches of something that was a homage to begin with. To close, a feeble cover of It's Alright (originally by Sterling Void) feels like an admission of defeat.
• This article was amended on 28 January 2011. The original stated that It's Alright was by the Pet Shop Boys, when their version was itself a cover. This has been corrected....full text
BbcBlue Songs sees Hercules lynchpin Andy Butler and his shape-shifting array of chums return, after scoring gold in the collaborative and critical sense with a self-titled 2008 debut. That breakthrough was spearheaded by the sublime Yazoo-channelling single Blind, with vocals by Antony Hegarty (of ...and the Johnsons fame); its parent LP a record justifiably celebrated as one of the best of its kind to emerge in the last decade.
For the follow-up, Butler has moved away from the distraction-heavy New York scene in favour of his hometown of Denver; he also recorded in Vienna with techno legend Patrick Pulsinger. Again, a troupe of contributors has been assembled – appearing alongside mainstay Kim Ann Foxman are Venezuelan singer Aerea Negrot, Shaun Wright and Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke. The results mostly reference the 1985-1994 house era that Butler’s own label, Mr Intl., operates within. But this is no pastiche of that time, more a further exploration – and added elements of future disco ensure Blue Songs is very much relevant in 2011.
Opener Painted Eyes, featuring the octave-tastic lungs of Negrot, is pure 21st century Sylvester. Lead single My House couldn’t be more 1989 hands-aloft deep house – you expect Adeva to pop up at any moment; even its accompanying video seems like a lost episode of Dance Energy. Boy Blue features mellow acoustic strums underpinned by a menacing electronic throb and brass swells, sounding not unlike something from Screamadelica. Kele’s contribution to Step Up continues his disco epiphany, and drags him even further into the house nation; and there can be no better tune than the uptown Chic disco of Falling for getting ready to before a big night out. The album closes with a slowed-down abstract take on Sterling Void’s It’s Alright – the sentiments work, even if they are lost a bit in the non-largeness of its soundbed....full text
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