Hercules And Love Affair – Blue Songs

Andy Butler from Hercules and Love Affair
Image by acedout via Flickr
The eponymous debut from Hercules And Love Affair was the ultimate album to wallow in your own self-pity to. Charting the rise and fall of gay disco culture, from Studio 54 at its peak to the pitiless devastation of AIDS, the album was a loving and sybaritic pastiche, importing the sounds and sensations of a bygone era.
Around half of the troupe’s follow-up, Blue Songs, wants to be similarly anecdotal and reminiscent. Beguiling opening track “Painted Eyes” introduces us to the album’s secret emotional weapon, Venezuelan-born singer Aerea Negrot, whose intonation is as exotic as her background would suggest. Over an urgent rhythm and string arrangement, the lyrics are elegant and yearning – a trick Negrot repeats a couple of tracks later on the soulful “Answers Come In Dreams”.
At its most ambitious moments, Blue Songs is a triumph. The brace of songs that form the centrepiece, “Boy Blue” and “Blue Song”, are autobiographical compositions, and hearken back to very un-obvious forebears. The former is an acoustic strum written as a paean to Sinéad O’Connor, which builds to an echoing climax; the latter is a lazily tropical number with woodwind, Jew’s harp, and polyrhythms galore.
The trouble is, the other half of the album follows more base desires, with more rote and predictable outcomes. The rot begins with “Falling”, which deals in the same musical tropes Hercules And Love Affair have employed to better effect elsewhere, and reaches crisis point on “Visitor”, which is about as interesting as listening to a dishwasher for five minutes. H&LA main man Andy Butler usually wears his influences on his sleeve, but here the sticky fingers of Mark Pistel and Patrick Pulsinger are present not only in spirit but in person too. If anything, this invitation to collaborate robs the songs of their excitement.
The album closes on an even weirder note, with a wobbly cover of the Sterling Void song “It’s Alright”, popularised by the Pet Shop Boys in 1989. The effect is haunting, with Butler’s adolescence and futurism colliding via the strangely dispassionate singing of his partner-in-crime Kim Ann Foxman.
My admittedly high expectations of Blue Songs have not been matched fully in the album’s execution. Butler has shown he can write music that evokes the spirit of old-school disco, but here, all too often, he looks to a different historical period; one that he is unable to recreate so well, in spite of its obvious significance in his personal development. A missed opportunity.
Pick ‘n’ mix: My House, Answers Come In Dreams, Boy Blue.

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