Ratatat have been serving us their brand of instrumental electro-rock for about eleven years now. With five albums under their belt including Magnifique and essentially no guest vocalists to speak of on any of them, they actually fill a rather interesting niche in the modern music market. While instrumental music can often be a difficult sell, Ratatat have been pretty good at offering quality music so far. Magnifique has some of that too, but at the same time it kind of misses the mark.
Sound-wise, Magnifique feels different to the previous few albums, but it’s not a gigantic stretch. While guitars have always been a big part of their sound, if not the main focal point, this album is more reliant on guitars than its predecessor LP4. It feels like a much more balanced mixture of electronic and rock elements, if not leaning a little further towards rock instead of electronic this time. There’s still no vocals to be seen on the album, barring some occasional laughing or unintelligible talking at the end of songs.
In the long run, the guitar itself is the main selling point of the album. Abrasive features one of the best uses of it, mixing the infectious guitar riffs and the solo near the middle of the song with beats that feel reminiscent of French house music; like something Justice would have tackled on their second, rock-influenced album Audio, Video, Disco. The house influence in Countach and Nightclub Amnesia is even heavier, and while their melodies and riffs aren’t as engaging as Abrasive, they rank among the best on the album. The only song to top these three comes early, with Cream on Chrome opening the entire album with a massive punch; the funk vibe is strong, and the layered guitars throughout the song add an especially nice finishing touch to it.
It’s the slower songs that eventually manage to drag the album down. The title track is the strongest of the slow songs with its synth string arrangement and constant use of slide guitar, but that same style of guitar playing popping up again in Supreme and I Will Return makes it lose its appeal, especially when all three songs sound so similar. But the album’s lowest point is Drift, which amounts to 3:23 of a simple beat made almost exclusively to allow the strange guitar playing to take the spotlight. It doesn’t really work, especially when there’s no real progression; it’s the almost exact same looping riffs throughout the entire song.
With such strong songs opening the album, it’s a shame that Magnifique went the way it did. The album reinforces that Ratatat’s funky, upbeat electro-rock songs are their strong point. Meanwhile, as soon as the tempo drops, the songs become distinctly less enjoyable. Additionally, it’s hard to escape the thought that songs like Supreme would be plainly better with a vocal added on top of them; you can almost hear it, and it makes that lack sting just that little bit more. Magnifique has some strong cuts on it, but in the end it feels like a missed opportunity, both due to its instrumental nature and the abundance of slower tracks.