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Disclosure – 'Caracal' review

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It’s a mark of how far Disclosure have come since 2011 that their time as hipster darlings putting out nothing but Discogs-busting 12”s now feels like a long-ago blip in their history. Another mark is that, for fear of leaking, Universal Records were only allowing advanced listens of Caracal via a compressed, laggy stream hidden on their website. And another still is that while much of the 90s house and garage revivalism of Disclosure’s debut album endures here on their second, it feels less pilfered this time round and more like Disclosure just doing their thing. In short, it appears the Lawrence brothers have entered their Imperial Phase: guaranteed hit singles, high-profile collaborations and an air of untouchability. Unfortunately, however, the first casualty of the transformation has been their music.

But to ascribe this dip in quality simply to a newfound champagne lifestyle isn’t quite right. For while there’s a sense right across Caracal of a band somewhat phoning it in – nothing here has quite the sucker-punch of White Noise or the languidity of Help Me Lose My Mind – there’s also simultaneously the feeling of Disclosure trying too hard to broaden their appeal, and in doing so dulling their own personality: only two tracks here don’t carry guest vocalists, and more often than not the duo allow their collaborators to dictate the mood. The effect is swamping: when Lorde begins singing about “sunsets off Mulholland” on Magnets, the song becomes entirely hers, which may be enjoyable to Lorde fans but leaves Disclosure sounding affected and sadly toothless. Equally, on Omen, Sam Smith’s contribution, the pair are usurped by their singer’s histrionic nasal yelps.

Caracal is not a bad album, by any stretch – there’s nothing here as anti-creative as David Guetta, say, or as feckless as Avicii – and compared with its chart-facing dance music peers Caracal has an undoubtedly fluid, head-bobbing likeability. However, neither is it a particularly good one: it lacks the heft, swagger and, crucially, the buoyant personality that defined its predecessor, and in its place are not previously unexplored sonic seductions but just watered-down iterations that bend awkwardly to their guests’ aesthetics.

That dilution could be intentional, although the Lawrence brothers don’t seem cynical enough to be that patronising. Instead, and perhaps more worryingly, it feels like the lurch towards banality has come entirely naturally, as both a reflection of and facilitator for their mega-success. There are flickers on Caracal (Echoes and Hourglass) that suggest a lust for club-based bangers remains. Larger chunks, however, warn that Disclosure’s Imperial Phase could mutate – like many have before them – into bloat.