- It's a nice problem to have, but pity the act who make the perfect debut. With their 2008 self-titled album, Hercules & Love Affair delivered an instant, contemporary classic that conveyed precisely who they were. Where do you go from there? 2011's Blue Songs offered few clear answers. The band's second album was torn between reductive '90s house revivalism and more esoteric, arty tendencies, and sounded unconvincing on both fronts.
The Feast Of The Broken Heart is, thankfully, a much better record. "Hercules Theme 2014," the breezy and confident opener, leaps from the speakers, and the album barely pauses for breath thereafter. Andy Butler, the group's ringleader, is still paying homage to dance music's past (and using potentially hackneyed Speak 'n' Spell samples and vintage, Chicago house synth-string stabs), but now he's doing it aggressively and irreverently. The production is, as Butler has said, "rough, tough, ragged," recalling early house music and the steely '80s dance-pop of Jellybean Benitez. His new tracks are also full of clever details. The early '90s rave-pop of "The Light" is garnished with smoky slide-guitar and weird test-bleeps, while closing curveball "The Key" echoes 4 Hero's jazzy broken beats.
The songcraft is, likewise, much improved. In a way he hasn't since Antony Hegarty, Butler now has vocalists on board who are big enough characters to bring a distinctive edge to the tracks, especially US singer-songwriters John Grant and Krystle Warren. Grant's sad, burnished baritone sounds terrific gliding across "I Try To Talk To You." Meanwhile, on "My Offence," Warren turns a peerless piece of jacking, retro-house into a feminist tour de force. "I've come too far from the girl I was taught to be / to let you make a bitch out of me," she roars, like Nina Simone. "5.43 To Freedom" is as hilarious as that one is bracing, with its dire warnings about hippies, communists and speed freaks.
The Feast of the Broken Heart makes a strong case for Hercules & Love Affair's continued existence. Butler's troupe have always been unique—a dance floor-friendly manifestation of the dissenting, politicised queer underground—but now they're making transcendent music again, too.
01. Hercules Theme 2014
02. My Offence feat. Krystle Warren
03. I Try to Talk to You feat. John Grant
04. That's Not Me feat. Gustaph
05. Think feat. Rouge Mary
06. 5.43 to Freedom feat. Rouge Mary
07. The Light feat. Krystle Warren
08. Liberty feat. John Grant
09. Do You Feel the Same? feat. Gustaph
10. The Key feat. Rouge Mary