Wednesday, 26 March 2008

HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR: Easy


I don't think it particularly helpful for the Hercules & Love Affair album to be promoted as merely another in the line of winking post-LCD backward looks to unlived through days of Moroder or Studio 54 or Chicago warehouses but with added Antony, but then again without the added Antony I doubt whether I would have lent the record a listen. It is a semi-successful album in that half of it relies a little too much on the honda-honda bass memory set and a little too little on actual emotion, but its other half - i.e., and unsurprisingly, the half largely involving added Antony - is remarkable. Rather than a revived ball of ageing gaudy strobe, HLA mainman Andrew Butler locates the secret source of the original post-disco worry and concern; much of the record plays to a dankly lit 1981 of hidden corners of riots, economic terminalism and ungainly fits of thwacked bass and careering trumpets (trumpeter Carter Yasataki is an essential foil here).

Perhaps the best of the non-Antony tracks is "This Is My Love," sung by Butler himself in an Eno deadpan baritone, over quiet skittles of beats and occasional flourishing flashbacks to primordial tinsel, as he describes his passage from his formerly "twisted face - the only one I knew" to discovering the real future ("In all the searching we do to find love's gentle being/If we open more than just our eyes, we might know what we're seeing"); his eyes blink with disciplined wonder ("I listened to the night time breeze/but she is quiet as can be") as a blanket of electric trumpets enfolds his newly-born joy.

Even when Antony is not primarily involved he cannot help but imbue the music with his intensely damaged character; note how he gradually takes over "You Belong" with its delicious warps of Inner City's "Good Life" from the background. And "Blind" has in other places been acknowledged as the masterpiece latter-day Bryan Ferry could never quite drive or provoke himself to produce; at the exact midpoint between "Both Ends Burning" and "Same Old Scene," Antony weeps, detests and worships his childish dreams of stars without hope of escape from his current unwilling loneness...he hangs onto these repeated and increasingly pained variants on the word and act of "feeling" like a mask of purest oxygen.

But "Easy" seems to me the hidden striking point and the album's most quietly smouldering song; over Sylvian anti-percussion and Sakamoto contra-drones, Antony sings like a low and threatening cloud, intoning directions to "come down easy" with the sun or the clouds or the drums and the songs that "she" plays like John Martyn filtered through 1980 Robert Palmer (and Palmer was always most convincing in low voice - see "Johnny And Mary," "I Didn't Mean To Turn You On," etc.); the pace is an unhurried flow until 2:35 when multiple Antonys abruptly blossom in flowering penitence of passions: "Walk, walk slowly!/Don't run!/There is no 'where' to get to!" before the rays of sun cast towards the ground again and Antony whispers a warning: "Stay with your family.../This day she gives us/It is a gift/Honour your family," before the song slowly disappears from view but not from mind. I sense another pre-apocalypse coming together; don't be distracted by the gaudy from revealing the Gaudi within...soap bubbles of hope, washing us clean.

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