Friday, July 26, 2002
The Rapture - Olio
Do we need a millenial update of The Cure's "The Walk"? Well, no, maybe not. But I'm always in favour of hearing stuff it would never have occurred to me to need prior, music which mounts so compelling an argument for its own necessity that you're forced to concede defeat. "Olio" is a bit like that, reminding mr of neglected musical qualities secretly continuing to eke out an existence in the sort of long-forgotten gestures of largesse that a band like The Cure specialised in. To put this another way: when we think of the worst (or best) excesses of the eighties we tend to limit our focus to certain images - Boy George's face, or Madonna's ripped lace - because excess by its very nature is impossible to grasp in its entirety and variety. So we choose representatives to stand in for the astonishing diversity of imprudence the decade offered, and while their extremities are accurate, they're also stifling - in the icy chill of Visage (so beloved by electroclash) we miss out on the corny menace of Dalbello, or, as in this case, the cartoonish emotionalism of The Cure (post-'82 model).

Even The Cure as a single band were so appallingly bad or appallingly good (depending on how you look at it) that a group like The Rapture could devote albums to chronicling their absurdity. But this sort of approach would be a waste of time - The Cure themselves have already gone to the same trouble - not to mention somewhat painfully studied. Instead "Olio" sounds like the results of a band hearing "The Walk" while out at a club, loving it, going home to collapse, and then waking up at 6 in the morning to record a tribute, alive with the conviction that "Friday I'm In Love" is not the way to remember this band. Or rather, that it's not what is worth saving. Even "The Walk" isn't what is worth saving. Rather, the band are obsessed with some essence, or element, that they must extract from the original and expose to the rigours of the modern world.

So this act of saving necessitates an execution: this specific revival, like any good swipe from the eighties, is as an act of desecration as much as genuflection, with The Rapture stealing a period piece jacket by eviscerating its previous owner, then trying it on for size while it still smokes. The period piece jacket in this case is Robert Smith's singing, which the desperate caterwaul of The Rapture's vocalist is so eerily similar to that it's faintly disturbing - not just superficial details of the wails, the high-pitched sighs, the drunken disregard for control, but also in the melodies, the alighting on certain notes, the pauses and the sustained notes. It's instantly identifiable as Robert Smith, but only a Robert Smith, referable to a handful of his songs at most, in a very specific act of necromancy that alienates much of the original group's backcatalogue. It's a risky move, because its success depends on how much leeway you're prepared to give this song: The Rapture might just be a highly competent covers band. But I'm searching for a reason to justify liking this so much, so I'm looking for a more optimistic explanation. So maybe its pinpoint resurrection is meaningful: an argument that this particular vector of Smith's range is a frontier that needs to be extended, expanded upon. You could frame "Olio" as a contrast to the sweeping gestures of retro-as-universality (as much eighties revivalism has aspired to), its devastatingly precise evocation becoming a crack to fall through... to where? Through the eighties and out into something else altogether?

There's certainly a sense of the "something else" to this song in its fabulous arrangement. It's the music that constitutes the necessary element of desecration here, and it's desecration via mis-recognition. Perhaps the drugs the band took at that club were really good, because they've failed to notice that "The Walk", while danceable, is basically hyperactive synth-pop. With the beat in their hearts and around their bodies, The Rapture forego creating a stylistically adhesive lo-fi homage, choosing instead to utilise the shiny, bleeping, uncomfortable pulse of dancefloor techno. Musically, "Olio" is actually closer to Closer Musik's "You Don't Know Me" (in fact they're incredibly similar) than The Cure, or indeed any of the post-punk or garage rock it might be lumped with; it's slimy, slithering synth motif and itchy house beat, complete with oh-so-Detroit multi-tiered latin percussion, renders it too dance, no longer merely borrowing from house but becoming invested within it. It's dance music investigating rock idioms rather than vice versa. The dirty synth bass line that runs through the song like a snake is the real hook, ruthlessly controlling the ever-spiralling narrative while the singer moans random signifiers of perverse despair ("I called you on the telephone 'cos I was lonely!") over the top, a culturally rich accouterment in service of the track's central themes of morbidity. Bizarrely, it makes for a great pop song.


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