After an uncertain second album The Rakes return with a laddish swagger for their third long player Klang. Their sophomore album Ten New Messages was an attempt to broaden their scope, which was especially evident in Alan Donohue's lyrics, but the overall feeling was that the band were hampered and constricted by this approach.
They left behind grey, industrial, sepulchral London for grey, industrial, sepulchral Berlin to write and record the album, disillusioned with the vapidity of the London music scene. Anyone expecting a Reed/Bowie/Iggy/Liars style reinvention however will be disappointed. Although they have expanded their lineup, The Rakes have streamlined their sound to a palette of clipped disco drums, chugging bass and skeletal guitars augmented with the occasional vociferous piano line. There is nothing wrong with stripping a song back to it's core elements – The Fall have made a career from deconstructing the base components of rock music, albeit with wonderful stylistic reinventions and phases along the way – and The Rakes clearly have a template which the band is comfortable with. Ten New Messages was shrouded in an air of melancholy, with Donohue's lyrics affected by London post 7/7. The outbreak of racist discourse and the media's response to the attacks were clearly things they felt uncomfortable with and explored in depth on the album. In fact Ten New Messages was weakened when it left this narrative cycle, with the more knockabout songs depressingly feeling more like artifice. On Klang they retrocede to the wry, weary social observations of their first record rather than grand social statements.
Capture/Release, released in 2005, was one of the keynote releases of the first wave of indie bands but it felt too clearly demarcated, it's influences clear and perfunctory while the polite deferences to working and drinking in the city presented a London-centric worldview. The lack of a specific context or conceptual framework for these songs left the whole movement open to criticisms of vacuousness. While they captured the emptiness of this working environ beyond the singles they sounded like a band who had been rushed into the studio far too early. Where Klang supersedes these previous releases is in it's cohesion. 10 songs, clocking in at less than 30 minutes with the longest song being 3 minutes 21 seconds. Every song is taut and muscular - like the onomatopoeic album title, the album is full of metallic harshness, a spiteful malevolence. And my Lord, is it cocking great fun.
Opener “You're In It” sets the tone for the rest of the album with its staccato, angular rhythms and pithy lyrics. “That's The Reason” and “Bitchin' In The Kitchen” are ostensibly songs about having a good time, but their combination of mod stylistics and sleazy late 70s era Rolling Stones guitar lines allow them to transcend the basic subject matter. Leadoff single “1989” could have been titled 2005, such is it's surface lack of progression from their debut record. But the chiming “Hong Kong Garden” guitars and lazy background vocals show a development in songcraft. What emerges from these collection of songs is a less polished, dirtier version of Franz Ferdinand. They even throw in a few filthy couplets worthy of Kapranos and co - 'You are exceptional at being sexual' etcetera – that would have seemed out of place on previous releases. Of course The Rakes' version of romance is a drunken fumble after a heavy night out rather than the glossy seduction of Franz's latest. And with Franz Ferdinand moving into more synth led territory there is a sizeable gap in the market for a band like The Rakes to capitalise on.
Alan Donohue's vocals will probably divide listeners, but he belongs to a great tradition of non-singers as vocalists (think Lou Reed, Mark E Smith, Martin Bramah) and while his range hasn't improved greatly (baritone to a keening yelp) his presence as a frontman certainly has. He initially gained attention for his curious mixture of Ian Curtis and David Brent moves when they played live, but whereas before he would mumble and seem embarrassed by his central position he now enunciates each vowel, warbles away and generally bestrides each song.
Are The Rakes' regressive ambitions a depressing indication of the lack of social awareness of modern indie bands or is their consistent approach to melody and subject matter an admirable stance? They tried to diversify, realised it wasn't apt and have returned with a focused, melodic and accessible album. The unity of purpose outweighs any criticism of their lack of progression or fixation on certain tropes – that modern life is rubbish, we are all victims of the aspiration deficit, the emptiness of the endless cycle of partying, having a detestable job, and the futility of trying to attach meaning in an increasingly mechanised and insignificant decade. 'Sometimes you can't smell the shit 'til you're in it' is perhaps a more prescient indictment of our current malaise than some lengthy, verbose and outwardly worthy protest song.
This article was originally produced for http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk. To read the music review of Klang by The Rakeson the site please click on the article title.