On what was one of our most anticipated albums of 2011, Hercules & Love Affair have transformed not only their lineup, but their distinctly ‘70s disco suave as well. Shedding the DFA label, getting rid of Antony, and touring more than ever before, Andy Butler and crew have taken a completely different approach to their sophomore effort. Blue Songs is ultimately a less rambunctious homage to dance music’s pioneers and is, as the title points out, an at-times sad and desperate album.
Blue Songs opens with “Painted Eyes,” a rerecorded version of a song that had only appeared on a compilation for a fashion show until now. The track will remind fans of Hercules & Love Affair’s first outing thanks to the string arrangement and flute players coupled with the minimal bass line. But Blue Songs takes an unexpected and rather unwelcome turn on its third track, “Answers Come in Dreams.” Butler’s production on the track borrows more from funk than disco. Yes the bass line is catchy, but “Answers Come in Dreams” is nothing short of sloppy. Synth layered upon synth, glitched and stitched together haphazardly, the track is just one of many missteps on an album that had incredible promise.
The lead single from the album, “My House,” suffers from the same issues “Answers Come in Dreams” and so many other tracks have. What starts out as a danceable and loving affair quickly turns into a cluttered and janky piece of work. The last half of “My House” is dedicated to the band’s beat boxing skills. Yes, beat boxing. What could have been a great pop song had it been scaled back just a bit becomes a mess of disillusioned vocals and awkward analogue fuzz.
Blue Songs peaks on “Blue Song,” a delicate and peaceful track that might be out of place in Hercules & Love Affair’s catalogue, but a brilliant cut nonetheless. The canvas is an ambient ocean breeze painted with Butler’s vocals and xylophone keys. No disco, no dance, just unabated serenity. It’s hard to knock a band for trying new sounds and approaches, most of which absolutely fall flat on Blue Songs, but “Blue Song” is a direction I wouldn’t mind Butler expounding upon on future records.
The entire album seems either completely uninspired or absolutely rushed. Hopefully it’s the latter and that Butler and his camp just need to take the same approach to their third album as they did to their first: patience. There was a rhythm and ambiance to Hercules & Love Affair that most people fell in love with, but Blue Songs is an odd collection of tracks that hardly has a single or two to stand behind.