The Rapture have definitely been getting less punky if not less funky since the release of Echoes in 2003. The band’s jagged guitars and inheritance of early ’80s darkness were toned down on Pieces of the People We Love and now with In the Grace of Your Love they are a band making dance music that sounds inspired by dance music past and present, rather than taking sharp-edged or flamboyantly grooving post-punk to its most danceable corners via funky basslines and a healthy infusion of cowbell.
This is not to say that it is an extreme departure. There are still traces of the bands that they have been everywhere, only now they seem intent on trading less in the mood and jitters of their earlier work, or the hedonistic bombast of their last record. In the Grace of Your Love seems to chart out a series of euphorias surrounding and extracted from love. Things start big. “Sail Away” is widescreen, romantic, Technicolor, enamored, the letter of a lover stubbornly pursuing a beloved. Luke Jenner’s voice, here as elsewhere on the record, is high no longer in a way that suggests nervous energy or a disturbance, but in a way that embodies, to a certain degree, the diva. It is emotional to the point of melodrama, but a handsome variant of melodrama that keeps you tuned in.
“How Deep is Your Love?” brings this tendency to its peak. It’s obviously rooted in piano house, catchy as hell, a massive love song about the kind of love that gives one the strength to climb mountains and “see what’s right” and give one what he or she needs to live. Jenner’s vocals are inspired by and charged with the fire of gospel singing, and in the end the question of the title gives way to cries of “Hallelujah.” And it works, really really well, especially the mystery bottled in the repeated phrase, “Let me hear that song.”
The titles here are almost all generic: they could be the handles of pop songs of any persuasion, race, creed, or content. “In the Grace of Your Love” and “Come Back To Me” are two such titles and behind them lurk the record’s darkest moments, those most evocative of The Rapture at their deepest burgundy and black. The latter evolves from a stern but dreamy piece of house with a tropical feel into a cavernous, minimalistic throb of sub-bass and kick drum around which a spidery synth-line winds itself. “In the Grace of Your Love” builds slowly and subtly, the guitar wirier than elsewhere on the album, the vocal more unnervingly desperate. It is a celebration of something, but seems to acknowledge the frame of catastrophes that makes any sort of grace a necessity.
In the Grace of Your Love is weakest at the points where it swerves into outsized, more rock-oriented tunes like “Rollercoaster,” “Blue Bird” and “Children” (which gives me the uneasy sensation of being at the turning point of a teenage rom-com and not minding too much). It is best at the moments already mentioned, where a sense of expansiveness is matched to captivating explorations and explosions of more or less settled genre conventions. Playful, fun and emotionally extravagant and captivating, songs like “How Deep is Your Love?” or the excellent closer – sweet, sweet white boy funk – “It Takes Time to Be a Man” harness that “something universal” that floats through the history of 20th century popular music and go sail it away to somewhere different.