It’s been a while since Luciano’s first album, Blind Behaviour – five years, in fact, during which he’s released a bunch of fair-to-middling singles and generally underachieved. If I recall correctly, Blind Behaviour received its share of drubbing on original release, which I never quite understood: it wasn’t a masterpiece, but there was enough on that album to save it from the second-hand bins, and Luciano’s productions had an exceptionally tactile sensibility at the time, as though molded out of fantastic plastics and day-glo clays.
But Tribute to the Sun is different: For one thing, it’s not nearly as appealing. This is not to say it’s bad, but in a world of many ‘not bad’ albums, being ‘not bad’ is like praising one’s competence at place-holding. I know it’s naff to quote from press releases, but my stomach couldn’t help but churn a little while I read about it being a “highly personal portrait of the artist” (read: an indulgence) “[i]nformed by the ups and down of the artist’s life.” With Tribute to the Sun, Luciano responds to these personal trials and tribulations with a mock-grandiosity that’s unerringly close to prog techno. Everyone loves Sven Vath now that he’s down with the minimal techno crew, but do you remember The Harlequin, the Robot and the Ballet Dancer? Or Future Sound of London’s Lifeforms? Maybe, like me, you’ve been trying to forget them for a long time.
Tellingly, it’s the quieter, more functional lacunae on the album that work. When Luciano’s not flinging the kitchen sink on the bedroom dancefloor, as on the less overwrought sections of “Celestial,” his productions combine the heavy thunk of bass with the kind of microbal percussive experiments that Villalobos perfected a few years back – clanks, ticks, thwocks and burps densely threaded. But more often than not, Tribute to the Sun just sounds messy. Not rich, or teeming with life, or thrillingly complicated – just a bit of a mess. Even when things seemingly calm down, as on the subliminal bump of “Metodisma,” Luciano’s clumsy vocal screams and wails overegg the pudding. (A final sprint, thanks to the brilliant, bulbous distentions of “Oenologue,” feels like too little, too late.)
And then there’s the cover, with Lucien Nicolat caught in a blinding daze of pink light, arm extended, side profiled, hand open and waiting for a butterfly to land on his lanky frame, an orb of white glow gathering around his palm. It’s the final, and in some ways most telling statement on an album that needs a little less of the ‘intensely personal’ expression that it so values and a little more ‘faceless’ communality.