The Rakes : Capture/Release

The bell’s ringing for last orders and mini-cabs are being hailed, but you won’t regret waking up with The Rakes’ debut in the morning

EIN! ZWEI! DREI! VIER! Weekend is go, and what you gonna do? Off down Old Street to compare wage packets with your city banker workmates? On a ferry to Strasbourg for a stag do full of strippers and cheap beer? Or on a maniacal drug bender from bang-on 6pm Friday night, expecting Saturday morning to be the usual array of dead cats, overweight bedmates and chemicals robustly refusing to leave your circulation? Whatever, man, The Rakes are right there, loosening your work tie, lining up the Jägermeister shots and slurring drool down your ear about Monday morning being a figment of your pill-ravaged imagination. Fuck it, you might get blown up on the Tube tomorrow, why not live for today?

Who said a European Strokes would never work? I mean, if The Strokes are a thundering manifestation of the subterranean soul of New York then The Rakes are the knackered Tube equivalent, ricocheting through their superb 34-minute debut album like a runaway Metropolitan Line train with the carcass of the urch scene trapped under its wheels. As Hard-Fi encapsulate the suburban Nowhere Vibe of satellite town existence, so The Rakes provide the inner city, medium wage equivalent: wrecked real life, recklessly lived. “We are all animals”, barks louche punk singer Alan Donohoe – voice of a student, soul of a superstar – and it’s the feeding frenzy at the human zoo that The Rakes are documenting.

We may have met them last year – with the career-driven nervous breakdown on disc that was debut single ‘22 Grand Job’ – scrabbling through the rat race with the wired simper of slave-wage desperation, but more central to their concerns is the oblivion we escape into when the photocopier whine stops and the weekly pint’n’powder binge begins. “I JUST WOKE UP!?/EVRYFING WAS FAHKED!/FROM VER NIGHT BEFORE!/I WAS BEYOND REPAIR!” Alan screams like Kele Bloc Party with a hangover the size of a Mars Volta gig in his head on ideological centrepiece ‘The Guilt’, “I JUST WOKE UP!/IN SOMEWUN ELSE’S BED/SHE WAS OVERWEIGHT/WHAT DID I DO LAST NIGHT?”. Heaven knows we’ve all been there, and – half celebration, half condemnation – ‘Capture/Release’ sets out to mirror these private shames. It’s the soy sauce stain on the shirt you’ve been wearing for three days straight, the shadow-eyed reflection in the pub door window as you’re hammering to be let in at 10am, the Michelle McManus-lookalike singing ‘Dancing Queen’ in your shower. Hear it and cringe, ye borderline alcoholics.

‘Retreat’ follows you on a circuit of your life’s endless Booze Cycle: “Walk home/Come down/Retreat/To Sleep/Wake up/Go out/Again/Repeat”. ‘Strasbourg’ snaps you on an anti-oppression hooligan rampage through some unsuspecting continental tourist spot: “Ideas can change a government/But they never listen to our arguments/On TV our friends smashed cement/Pulled down the bastards’ monuments”. ‘Violent’ shows you CCTV footage of your last kebab shop ABH (“Was it your genes/Or lack of money?”). And ‘Open Book’ and ‘Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)’ reflect those rare and terrifying moments of clarity when the bloodstream empties, your remaining brain cells unite against you and Cold Hard Reality hits like a stiletto spike to the brain stem: “I just drift along with no focus or meaning”. Really, no amount of Alka-Seltzer is gonna clear this motherfucker…

Luckily, this unrelenting AA meeting of an album is, musically, still back at the party. It’s a predictable stew, you might argue – Albert Hammond Jr guitar slices, Franz funk bass, Doherty-esque poetry on the beauty of urban self-destruction delivered in a ‘gritty’ cockney drawl – but it takes a hell of a talent to make it taste like it hasn’t just been reheated in some major label’s grotty cash-in-band microwave. No, ‘Capture/Release’ is fresh, unique, original even; its oh-so-contemporary reference points are revisited with such punk-rock vivacity and hell-for-charity-shop-leather vigour that they might be the first band you’d actually believe when they roll out the old “no, honestly, we were doing this long before we’d even heard of Bloc Party”. Plus, for every brilliant-but-obvious homage to ‘The Modern Age EP’ ( ‘Strasbourg’, ‘Retreat’, ‘The Guilt’) there’s a new twist of the jag-pop thumbscrew. ‘Open Book’ spans the sizable divide between ‘Michael’ and ‘Michael Caine’, lacing itchy-vein garage guitars with dark Madness piano and chanty Suggs-esque “o-woah-oh”s. ‘We Are All Animals’ could be ‘Town Called Malice’ if Weller had dumped the organ riff and roped in the operatic choir off ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’. ‘Binary Love’ is looped around a sinister OMD synth drone and ghost-in-the-drum-machine gurgles. ‘T Bone’ – the only real filler here – is Kim Deal’s bass having a fight with Kate Bush’s drumkit over who forgot to bring the song along, while ‘Violent’ is The Rakes’ nod to the summer of ska, and we know this because it’s got that echoey drum tap from all the old Specials records on it that sounds like someone hitting a lamp-post with a brick at the other end of the Blackwall Tunnel. Y’know, the noise that, were it dropped into the chorus of ‘Somewhere Only We Know’, would instantly turn Keane ska.

A headfuck, then, in both a ‘Crikey, The Rakes really do provide an inventive and invigorating spin on the post-Franz nu-garage cultural landscape, don’t they?’ sense and a ‘Christ, that 25th tequila is really fucking with my head’ sort of way. A warning lecture on the dangers of your eternal hangover? A gory autopsy of Binge-Drink Britain? Or a great pop record that makes you forget all those shitty spreadsheets and dance like no-one’s earning more than you. Whatever, the weekend’s only a couple of days away. Your round…

Mark Beaumont