Founders of the now-defunct Grand Central Records label that briefly made Manchester the hub of the UK urban scene, Rae & Christian now return from a twelve-year hiatus with their third album, Mercury Rising.
As with their Mercury Prize-nominated 1998 debut, Northern Sulphuric Soul, and 2001 follow-up Sleepwalking, the new album’s twelve tracks are laden with both established and emerging guest artists, lending the record a similar feel to the artist-curated compilations for which the Late Night Tales label has become renowned.
While the playful Blaxploitation-inspired Jazzy Jeff collaboration “Check The Technique” and the vocodered hip-hop funk of “A28” hark back to their Northern rap roots, Rae & Christian appear far more interested in tackling unchartered territory than restoring former glories. Indeed, after kicking off with “Happy,” an impossibly cheerful slice of blue-eyed soul pop featuring Foster The People frontman Mark Foster, Mercury Rising’s sound very rarely sits still. Most notably, “1975,” a tale of redemption lost on the German underground fronted by ex-Tunng vocalist Diagrams, effortlessly shifts from percussive tech-house to breezy acoustic folk. Likewise, the instrumental title track incorporates dub wobbles, trippy chillwave and orchestral post-rock to produce a stunning cinematic finale.
Elsewhere, under-rated troubadour Ed Harcourt lends his melancholic tones to the washed-out synths and laid-back loungey beats of “The Ballad Of Roza Shanina.” His wife Gita Langley is similarly impressive on the lush folktronica of “Still Here,” while Jake Emlyn, the intriguing androgynous figure who describes himself as the ‘Cockney Willy Wonka,’ showcases his potential on the bouncy electro-funk of “Favourite Game.”
Fans of Rae & Christian’s earlier work may be slightly perplexed at the mish-mash of sounds on offer, while with half the tracks clocking in over the five-minute mark, Mercury Rising occasionally borders on the self-indulgent. But overall, it’s an impressive comeback which deserves to put the duo back on the map.