A scene in the endearingly obnoxious 2002 movie, The Rules of Attraction, shows a small college's "End of the World" party, and the background tunage is the Rapture's "Out of the Races and onto the Tracks." Shindigs that feature burning wicker men as their main attraction are usually fodder for that Wicca guy you met once (and never again). But with that kind of booty-shakin' song playing in the background, you'd be a fool not to go. It's an amazingly cool scene, and I bet James Van Der Beek, the movie's star, would agree.

In 2002 and 2003, the Rapture had that kind of sway. You could play their club hit, "House of Jealous Lovers," to the image of a nursing home patient using a catheter and Miles Davis would likely rise from his grave and pop in with a martini. Raw yet accessible "dance-punk" carried the day; it brought even the most Malkmusian and lethargic of indie nerds out of the basement and onto the disco floor. And the Rapture, along with fellow NYCers Liars, were manning the ship.

Retrospectively, it's no wonder dance-punk crumbled so entirely. If the key to the genre was mixing disco and punk, the two most short-lived orgasms in pop music's history, how much meat could've been left on the bone at the end of the day? Fortunately for them, Liars have expanded their cosmic arsenal - and to some effusive praise - but it took an awkward transitional album to get there.

The Rapture appear to be mired in a similar process, as their second full-length, Pieces of the People We Love, struggles to jigsaw the shrapnel of their shattered niche. But as Liars made their get-away via outlandish, trial-and-error experimentation, the Rapture take a page from their more palatable musical spawn - Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party - and dilute the vivacity of their debut, Echoes.

I'll give Luke Jenner & Co. the benefit of the doubt, however, and blame Pieces' disposability on Danger Mouse, its producer. The mind behind "Feel Good Inc." and "Crazy," among other aurally carcinogenic hits, leaves little imprint on the album. This should be a good thing, given said knack for fatal ear diseases. But on a subtler level, Danger Mouse's collaboration seems to drive the album towards a wasteland of meager compromises. The two parties were never meant to work together.

It's major label pressure writ small: Universal, the Rapture's label, reads a Newsweek article knighting Danger Mouse the latest answer to the "how do we make white kids dance?" problem and sticks him with the client they think needs him the most.

The album's not a disaster, by any means. "The Devil" and "Callin' Me" muster enough verve to demand several listens; and no track, really, makes you shut the thing off. But as "diluted" most aptly describes the current music industry ethos, any sort of branching out - even an absolute turd of experimentation - would be preferable. Hell, why not make one more full-tilt dance-punk album? I'm sure James Van Der Beek would be down.--


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