Already the toast of the bloggersphere, Hercules & Love Affair's eponymous debut is one of the most fawned-over releases of the year, but for all the wrong reasons, it seems. Andrew Butler, the producer/brainchild behind H&LA, has modest skills and a vast knowledge of '80s electro and Chicago house, yet not a gripping album does that alone make. By and large, his throbbing beats and organic flow are less than compelling, suffering the major pitfalls of its chosen ilk, i.e. wonky sequencing, predictable structures and a noticeable dearth of hooks. While not utterly enthralling, the music is nonetheless a cagey beast; an elusive sound that bounds between melodramatic trickles of silvery synths and four-on-the-floor '70s disco whippets, yet only rarely successfully traverses the gap between the two. In other words, it's Martha Wash-meets-Mantronix on a dimly lit dancefloor in Brooklyn.
So, if the music is so stunningly average than what is it that's making people go positively gaga over this release? One word: Antony. Yes, that Antony, leader of the Johnsons and Mercury Prize Winner. An all but untouchable icon, his vocal turns on tracks like "Blind" and "Time Will" are stunning, his gossamer vibrato blasting the tracks out of the disco ghetto and into the stratosphere. While the other vocalists here (Nomi, Kim Ann Foxman) try mightily, they are simply unable to perform at the same level, leaving their turns feeling flat and lifeless by comparison.
Many have already proclaimed it to be an unabashed success, but one big question floats cumbrously over Hercules and Love Affair's feather-festooned head; would anybody care if Antony were absent? Ultimately, the answer is no. This despite the fact that repeat airings help flesh out the intricacies and compellingly organic aspects of the tracks themselves, bringing them into a new, slightly more favorable light. But in the end, its Antony's bigger-than-life presence/voice that lifts the album above its otherwise mediocre station, and without him, Butler remains just another techno/house producer without a hit, or a muse.