“Caracal”: A cat without its claws

The new Disclosure album fails to capture the perfect mix of ‘pop sensibility’ and club ready singles

By COLLIN FENSTER

FEW ALBUMS this year have been as widely anticipated as English electronic duo Disclosure’s “Caracal”, the follow-up to their highly successful 2013 debut album, “Settle.” This time around, brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence bring on a dizzying array of guest artists as they try and slide into a more accessible pop-first, club-second direction. Clocking in at over an hour, “Caracal” tries the patience of dance enthusiasts and casual listeners alike, posing the question: does it have the flash to keep us listening?

The first track, “Nocturnal,” featuring The Weeknd, is possibly the blandest song that either artist has ever put out. Right from the start, the dry four-on-the-floor beat is a disappointingly conservative start that can only be there to set the bar low for the rest of the album. The hook, which, yes, is just The Weeknd somewhat- melodically saying the word “nocturnal” over and over again, sounds both uninspired in its writing and lazy in its execution. At just under seven minutes, it’s the longest song on the album, rendering it a seemingly odd choice for a lead track (and a complete waste of time).

The next two tracks, featuring Sam Smith and Gregory Porter, respectively, see “Caracal” through a brief upswing. While unlikely to see the popularity and acclaim of “Latch,” “Omen” brings back some of the tasty hi-hat splashes and bass syncopation, while staying smoothed over by a clean pop finish that defined Disclosure’s earlier hits. “Holding On” succeeds for the same reasons — the fusion of the dirtier, libido-inspiring club feel with the more radio-friendly pop sound and production — and is the strongest track on the record. It’s the kind of song that simultaneously makes you want to sing along during an afternoon drive, and grind on some dashing stranger in a dark East London club.

The problem with the seemingly endless list of high-profile guest artists on “Caracal” is that not all of their songs could possibly have been hits. Unfortunately, that’s still an overly gentle phrasing of the way it seems to have panned out. Even Grammy-winners Lorde and Miguel couldn’t bring this album back up to snuff with their contributions. Lorde’s track, “Magnets,” suffers from many of the same problems as “Nocturnal.” While the hook is better, both in writing (“Let’s embrace the point of no return,” I can’t help but imagine the New Zealander herself wrote it) and performance, it still can’t save the Lawrence brothers’ uncharacteristically timid and laid-back beat.

The last saving grace of this album is its third single, “Jaded.” Low-pass filters keep the drop just out of earshot until we’re lurched into a jolting, delay-heavy and just-grimyenough onslaught of synth bass and electronic percussion that would make even the most conservative among us want to tap their toes to a beat or two. They successfully overlay this with highly doctored but ultimately catchy vocals borrowed from the pop arena they’re attempting to work their way into. Like “Omen” and “Holding On,” “Jaded” successfully takes the celebrated sounds from “Settle” and re-orients them just enough towards pop to create a top-40 sound that still maintains some originality and spirit.

“Caracal” is like any other pop album – the only really good songs are the singles, and the rest is filler that won’t get many listens, and doesn’t deserve them either. There’s an incredible amount of wasted space and talent here that could have made something really incredible, but that didn’t happen. At least we walked away with a couple of decent tracks, right?

5.5/10

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