The Rakes, We Are All Animals (2005)


Artist: The Rakes
Title: We Are All Animals
Description: album track, from Capture/Release
Label: V2
Release date: 2005
First heard: 2005

My abiding memory of The Rakes is of telling someone off at Alexandra Palace. The London four-piece were supporting Franz Ferdinand – whose jerky art-rock style they shared – at the cavernous barn, and the gig seemed to epitomise what was suddenly right about British guitar music, as the gloomier Editors were also on the bill. I’ve looked it up and it was December 1, so something valedictory about a better year was in the air.

The Rakes had caught my ear with 22 Grand Job the year before, a calling-card song if ever I’d heard one, singer Alan Donohoe’s lyrics almost impenetrable but you got the idea (“22 grand job, in the City, it’s alright”), and you sensed something very local, very contemporary, very British, and keenly if dissentingly observed. Their debut album, Capture/Release, chimed with the post-punk revival being felt from Franz and Editors to all those New York bands we had to beat. You sense that a lot of angular young men were signed up in Franz Ferdinand’s refreshing, strident wake, especially after their Mercury in 2004 for the triple-platinum debut. The Rakes never quite rode the wave, although I still rate Capture/Release. It was as characterful as Donohoe’s Ian Curtis-like dancing.

We went “down the front” to experience his stagecraft close-up, and it was there that much younger, drunker consumers starting bashing into us. It was not a mosh pit, but an element wished to start one, and having been almost knocked off my feet more than once by the same youngsters, I felt the need to have a word. It was probably inappropriate of me, but it was my fortieth year, and I really, really wanted to enjoy The Rakes.

We Are All Animals remains a defining song: built around a bass/drum skeleton that recalls a marginally funkier She’s Lost Control, Donohoe’s staccato, near-spoken vocal invokes Darwinian theory (“We – are – all – ani-mals – who have lost our hair/Re-tained – some of our teeth and gained – a – choice”), the God delusion and the Pandora’s Box of self-actualisation. All this academia fuzzed-up by guitar that crawls over the chorus like tuneful interference, abetted by a brazen use of the keyboard’s “choral” effect adding cheeky portent. This last conceit recalls the theme tune to quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire as much as Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

This is catchy stuff, with witty lines that stay in the mind, but you can’t walk off into the night chanting its riff like an anthem by Kasabian (or, for that matter, Editors), as it sort of doesn’t have one. It might have been a hit otherwise. It wasn’t even a single, and that’s worth stating, as V2 pulled five off the album, Thriller style, in search of a breakthrough – if you count All Too Human, which was added later. The Rakes never even cracked the Top 20, while Editors reissued everything until they went Top 10.

As fiery as the Fire Engines or Josef K, but with the added oomph we might credit to the crisp, modulated production of future Adele genius Paul Epworth, something told me that The Rakes were into something good on this album, and particularly on this track, where lines like that have no place in a pop song, like, “biologists and chemists reducing our souls to four letters” and “we’re like a masterpiece that’s glimpsed the artist,” play with your brain while messing with your feet.

If the passing brilliance of The Rakes can be reduced down to a single instance, it’s the way Donohoe pronounces “gorillas” in the line, “chimps or gorillas” as “grillers.” I loved him for for it.

After that, it would be frustrating to follow The Rakes’ progress. But they made their mark on me at a vital moment and I love them for that, too. Within a year, I’d be back down the front at Arctic Monkeys gigs at home and abroad, this time facing up to my mid-life crisis by pushing into other people, young and old. We were all animals, after all.

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