Their use of harmonies has always been what’s lifted them above their peers, so in many ways this album makes perfect sense. We all know how well those distinctive harmonies did for them on ‘Hounds Of Love’ (factoid: it was my ringtone for quite a while) and ‘Danger Of The Water’ on their debut was nearly completely a capella.
However, according to the band, recording was an intense affair, the effort of making 115 vocal parts work and be in tune becoming a nightmare. Yet their own ‘Thursday’ and ‘Man Ray’ sound effortlessly great here, even better stripped back to the vocals than they did originally.
When not tinkering with their own songs the record mixes covers of both the traditional and pop. The middle section is made up nearly entirely of historic folk songs. So we get ‘Sumer Is Icumen In’ and the boozy fun of ‘The Old Dun Cow’.
More contemporary covers also see the band’s vocal dexterity come to the fore. Their cover of Sparks’ ‘The Number One Song In Heaven’ is superb while the Kelis cover has enough of her swagger left in to soar. However, they don’t always get it right and their take on the Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Meet Me Halfway’ crosses too far into novelty territory.
It’s their bouncy reworking of Richard Thompson’s Beeswing - complete with fingerclicks and handclaps - that is the highlight. It takes the original’s sad story and gives it verve and vigour as their voices entwine to give it a new life and make a beautiful song their own.
Time will tell whether this is a direction that the band will continue to travel in. It feels more like a regrouping, a chance to take stock of where they want to go next. At times ‘Rant’ comes across like a hip church choir having a go at some pop hits. Yet, in the main, this is a fun and genuinely touching set of songs.
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