Review Summary: Inconsistent debut which includes some great guitar hooks and polarizing vocals. Working Class Brits are likely to be won over, but the rest of the world could be left scratching their heads a little.
The Rakes are not the first band to have to overcome being very British and they will not be the last either. But it is just a fact that some bands are able to use it to their advantage better than others and appeal to listeners all over the world. Unfortunately, The Rakes are not one of these bands. Aiming their debut album at the working class was a seemingly fool-proof ploy of achieving such an objective, but if ‘Capture/Release’ is anything to go by, then it ultimately may be only the British working class that are won over.
This doesn’t mean that this album is totally worthless to anyone outside of Britain… Far from it in fact, as the album kicks off strongly with the first 2 singles released from it. The attention getting ‘Strasbourg’ begins with urgent guitar churning and matching drum-work, before lead vocalist Alan Donohoe’s trademark straight-faced delivery fits the track near-perfectly. Ditto for ‘Retreat’ which has a more dancey feel to it akin to Franz Ferdinand. Especially effective here is the repetitive chorus of sorts where Donohoe enthusiastically yelps “Walk Home, Come Down, Retreat, To Sleep. Hook Up, Again, This Time, Next Week”.
Franz Ferdinand is definitely a comparison point for The Rakes, but unfortunately they come up short in arguably every category. This is especially the case when it comes to Donohoe, whose vocal delivery will polarize opinions. While his vocals are rather impressive on the first 2 tracks and some of the other better songs on this album, they are forced and verge on grating elsewhere. This is especially the case when he tends to speak lyrics rather than sing them. Furthermore, he simply doesn’t have the charisma of Alex Kapranos and listeners won’t find themselves being drawn into tracks as much as they could be.
One area where The Rakes may rival Franz Ferdinand though is in Matthew Swinnerton’s winning guitar hooks. These pop up numerous times throughout this album and should even have the band’s critic’s realizing that they have potential. Take for example, the hook included in the sub 2 minute 4th single ’22 Grand Job’, or The Police sounding loop apparent in ‘Open Book’.
The telling and cleverly titled 3rd single ‘Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)’ also highlights Swinnerton’s work and may in fact be the cut that sums the album up best. The theme is obvious and one which runs through the whole album, while Donohoe’s trademark vocals are ever-present. Yet, while you really want to be drawn into the song, it is difficult to be so. There does not appear to be a specific reason for this and it is more likely to be a combination of factors. One of these may be its position in the track ordering, which bemusingly has the 5 singles positioned as the first 3 and last 2 songs on the album.
So what of the tracks in between…??? Well, it’s a real mixed bag, but more leans toward mediocrity, without including anything too horrendous. Songs such as the bass-driven ‘We Are All Animals’, the rocking ‘T Bone’ and the atmospheric nervous energy of ‘Terror’ are all decent, but are unmemorable and do not demand repeated listens. Meanwhile, Donohoe’s vocals are difficult to like on cuts such as ‘Open Book’, the punk-like ‘The Guilt’ and ‘Binary Love’. The best among the lot is the energetic ‘Violent’, predominantly due to its rousing gang vocals in the chorus.
Many of these tracks also struggle to surpass 3 minutes in length which I believe to be telling in a number of ways. The overall depth of the music is an issue, while the vocal dependency on Donohoe is playing a dangerous game. Furthermore, the connecting theme on the album begins to wear thin as the album moves along. The Arctic Monkey’s showed this deficiency could be overcome via many methods on their debut album, but unfortunately The Rakes have less success here.
The re-release of this album thankfully included an impressive 5th single as its closer. ‘All Too Human’ is a conventionally structured ballad of sorts that is an effective grower and points to the band’s future optimistically. Because while The Rakes have a certain something about them which should make them rather appealing, this debut release is rather inconsistent and only goes so far in showcasing the band’s potential. Brits may be more won over, but the rest of the world could be left scratching their heads a little.
Recommended Tracks: Retreat, Strasbourg & Violent.