ALBUM REVIEW: Hercules & Love Affair – In Amber | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Released: 17.06.22








There’s a certain fascination that comes with seeing an established artist known for a certain style or sound take a sudden lurch off track: sometimes triumphant (the piss and vinegar jazz modernism of Bowie’s Blackstar), sometimes disastrous (Celtic Frost’s failed glam-rock reinvention on Cold Lake remains the nadir), and sometimes just plain baffling (it’s still slightly delightful that Lou Reed’s final statement would be a record as perverse, frequently appalling yet occasionally brilliant as Lulu).

All lampshading aside, the advance line for In Amber, the fifth album from Andy Butler’s disco/house project Hercules & Love Affair, is that this would be his non-dance statement, his love letter to ‘80s goth – a darker, meaner effort that takes its eyes off the dancefloor and looks to occupy more challenging, difficult emotional terrain.

It’s not that any of this is untrue: the out-and-out bangers of yore are noticeable in their absence, and hiring actual Budgie for drum overdubs is a pretty clear act of signposting as to which part of Butler’s record collection we should be looking to this time. But given that the previous Hercules & Love Affair album Omnion already functioned as an arbitration between dancefloor exuberance and more interior states, In Amber’s rebrand ends up being more gradual than the Peter Hook-esque bass of opener Grace might suggest.

Making a welcome return to the Hercules & Love Affair stable is ANOHNI: her vocals light up the sprightly One and the volcanic, percussive Poisonous Storytelling, but the plodding, overlong Christian Prayer is dead on arrival despite her best efforts. Which illuminates In Amber’s main issue, because while the extremes of energy and ambience of the record appeal (closer Repent especially is a genuinely beautiful, minimal piece that shows how this could have worked), too many of the attempts to channel Siouxsie & the Banshees or Dead Can Dance fall just short of truly working.

There’s a lot still to enjoy here, but In Amber never quite sticks the queasy euphoria of old or the glamorous melodrama of Butler’s inspirations – falling between stalls, you wish Butler had been bolder with this new direction.


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