Any act signed to DFA Records gains instant 'cool' points from most scenesters these days. Home to some of the most innovative and acclaimed dance acts of recent years (LCD Soundsystem, Shit Robot, et al), the New York-based label is widely perceived to nurture and discharge cutting-edge talent. When one of those acts has been co-produced by DFA head honcho Tim Goldsworthy himself, the excitement is even more palpable; great things were expected of Hercules and Love Affair before nary a synth was struck in dissent.
As the musical project of DJ Andy Butler, Hercules and Love Affair has something of an open-door policy when it comes to contributors. The main freelancers here are Antony Hegarty (he of throaty-warbled torch song protagonists Antony & the Johnsons), transsexual NYC scenester Nomi, and hedonistic club promoter Kim-Ann Foxmann. There are pros and cons with their very involvement, however: such a motley crew looks great on the press release, but apart from Hegarty, do they have anything of musical worth to contribute?
It's that very point that's the problem with Hercules and Love Affair - an album that's so wilfully, painfully arty that it's hard to connect with on any level. True, there are some likeable nu-disco tracks here, Hegarty's voice is predictably fantastic (if contentiously unsuited to this genre) and some of the grooves that Butler has created in his bid to re-invent the 'gay disco' scene are, admittedly, fabulous (glam-soul effort Hercules' Theme, the polished, poignant chug of Iris or the gently rollicking, danceable quirk of Blind).
As a collection, perhaps, Hercules and Love Affair could arguably be seen as a progressive record - but individually, there are few songs here strong enough to make any real impact. When all is said and done, this is an album that's not nearly as forward-thinking as most would have you believe, but one you'll desperately want to immerse yourself in nonetheless, because you feel that you probably should. Yet there's still the overpowering sense that it shouldn't be this difficult to like. Disappointing.