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Posted February 10, 2007 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

The Rakes return with Ten New Messages

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Ah, 2007 is living up to be the year of sophomore efforts, especially in the case of previously acclaimed art-rock successes. From Bloc Party to Kaiser Chiefs, names that were previously unanimous in the rising scene are trying to avoid the self-imposed “sophomore slump” that has plagued relative bands for so long. The latest in this musical game is one of London’s favorites, The Rakes. They were a product of constant critical acclaim and high expectations with their debut album Capture/Release in the summer of 2005, reaching #32 on the UK chart with a dozen enjoyably catchy tracks that varied from the clean Brit-pop of “Open Book” to the dirty sexual swagger of “The Guilt”. With a large fanbase twitching with anticipation, The Rakes will release their second album Ten New Messages on March 19th (March 22nd in the USA). The band whose name was created due to the members being as “skinny as rakes” consist of singer Alan Donohoe, guitarist Matthew Swinnerton, bassist Jamie Hornsmith, and drummer Lasse Petersen. When they formed in 2002, they were appropriately grouped in with fellow contemporaries such as Maxïmo Park and The Futureheads, being one of the staples of post-punk revitalization and the now infamous “art-rock” classification. Ten New Messages keeps the band in similar form, though the album is clearly more focused and cleaner. Where Capture/Release varied dramatically in content and tone, Ten New Messages tends to avoid over-distortion, drunken monologues, and sloppy production at all costs. Basically, the band sounds more aged and experienced. Depending on your own taste, this could hurt or improve your opinion of the popular foursome. Perhaps the band’s admiration of orderly clothing fashion has changed them for the better, as they supplied the soundtrack to a Dior Homme fashion show after the release of their first album. Whatever it was, I’m enjoying Ten New Messages quite a bit more than their fun debut, which I found enjoyable as well.

The band’s superficial tendencies just burst out in the album’s opener “The World Was a Mess But His Hair Was Perfect”. I’m not sure if anyone else sees it, but doesn’t that title just look like something Morrissey would do? Singer Alan Donohoe said the album “was inspired by a combination of choral music, the television show 24, Bond theme tunes, World War I poets and the Sugababes”. If you listen closely, you can hear the Bond influence in the beginning of the song through the suave bass line and matching guitar chords. When the single guitar notes come into play, it sounds like The Rakes that their fans know and love. Truthfully, I’m not very fond of the song. I find it boring compared to most of their material. As always though, my opinion won’t always reflect yours. From the people I’ve talked to, I seem to be the only one who isn’t in love with the song, so I would certainly still recommend the listen at the very least. The Rakes always built their songs around catchy choruses and I expected so much more in this one. Instead, it’s mediocre and predictable at best and takes a bit too long to reach the climax. As much as that description sounds like a clumsy lover, I find it to be true. The song is actually fifteen minutes long but the shorter five-minute version was fortunately used on the album (and with the sample below). I always took The Rakes for a fun three-minute band, which makes me wonder what they were trying to do with this song in particular. Luckily, the band doesn’t seem too aimlessly ambitious in the rest of the album. In the fantastic “We Danced Together”, they remind us why they were the darlings of the British media two years ago. The song is clean and crisp with an easy flow, reminding me occasionally of “Open Book” and “Binary Love”, two of their best on Capture/Release. The echoed backing vocals during the track provide for an instant catchiness, throwing a newly discovered technique that The Rakes find to be quite useful throughout the album. I had a feeling that I would enjoy “When Tom Cruise Cries” before I even listened to the song. Just look at the title. Who wouldn’t find the idea of Tom Cruise crying to be at least somewhat hysterical? “I tried to call your phone but the network’s down or you’re just not answering” is one variation of the hopeless modern phrase that Donohoe repeats throughout the song. Quite a common problem, don’t you think? Jarvis Cocker asked a similar question in Pulp’s “Ansaphone”. “TV’s on with Tom Cruise crying on his father’s bed” is only used as a reference to a night of loneliness, hope, and despair. Can anyone name the specific movie it’s from? The song takes a stab at media in general, only serving as a distraction to real life depicted in a false manner, making bitterness another common theme. While most of their other songs are reminiscent of nights out and living up youth, this example of bleakness gives a new and very effective look at the maturing band. Ten New Messages is one of the few sophomore albums that actually exceeds the efforts of a debut. The band seems more focused and driven, resulting in one of the most impressive albums of the year so far. Other highlights include “Little Superstitions”, “Suspicious Eyes”, and “Time to Stop Talking”. “Suspicious Eyes” is particularly interesting, taking Donohoe, an angelically voiced female singer, and a young British rapper and placing them all into one very catchy song. The song stands as a satirical take on racism, often stemming from generalizations. In terms of lyrical morals, Ten New Messages is far from the ten commandments, but it’s still all in good fun. Honestly, two years ago, this looked to me like a band that could be in it for the five minutes of fame. Fortunately, I was misled.

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The Rakes – We Danced Together

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/rakes-wed.mp3]

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The Rakes – When Tom Cruise Cries

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/rakes-whe.mp3]

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The Rakes – The World Was a Mess But His Hair Was Perfect

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/rakes-the.mp3]

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].