Three years after Pitchfork named Echoes the best album of 2003, the Rapture are back to reclaim the dance-punk revolution they helped usher in. There's nothing resembling punk either in sound or spirit on Pieces of the People We Love, however. It's mindless, plastic electro pop that some will embrace as fun dance-floor fodder. Others will merely find the band more annoying than ever.
As usual with the Rapture, there's a big single to capture your attention: "Get Myself Into It" is built in the tradition of "House of Jealous Lovers" and "Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks," but it doesn't leap out like those do. It's less a barometer of hip than a faded snapshot of the past.
The rest of the album gets old just as quickly. The band sticks stubbornly to their no-brainer formula: Luke Jenner's whiny yelp and repetitive thrusts of snarling guitars assisted by canned rhythms, blippy keys and, all too often, faux-B-52's backup vocals. Polished and carefully poised, many songs come off like a watered-down hybrid of the Cure and Talking Heads—all surface and no soul.
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For a supposed return to form, there isn't much to like here. Cee-Lo's guest turn on the Danger Mouse-produced title track is buried beyond recognition, and Jenner is too busy with his posturing to leak any of the charisma that helped drive the band's first two hits. And just try getting past the bad Michael Jackson impression of "The Devil" or the forced weightiness of "Calling Me." Seriously, try.
Jenner has lost the plot lyrically as well, utilizing his too-cool purr in the service of such shockers as "You say you're falling in love/I cry from heaven above/This time can only be kept . . . by those who never have wept." Such high-school poetry over retro kitsch may be fine for download-happy teens, but anyone who lived through the '70s and '80s the first time around is liable to hate this record.
That said, the Rapture have been thrilling live ever since they first invited us to "shake shake shake shake shake shake shake." Expect the sweaty, handsome mass of bodies to do just that at the Glass House, flailing limbs shrugging off the new record's weaknesses. Because when people are fired up to dance, stuff like bad lyrics and obvious influences couldn't matter less.
The Rapture and the Presets at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Fri., 7:30 p.m. $15.