When Janelle Monae unleashed her magnum opus The Archandroid on us last year, it wasn’t just her impassioned blend of Prince meets Outkast funk-pop that ensnared the imagination. No, it was as much the ambitious story of a messianic android forced to go on the run after falling in love with a human that brought her extravagant vision to life.
While married couple Tennis, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, might not inhabit the same musical circles as the aforementioned chanteuse, their debut, concept album Cape Dory, is based on a something as equally enthralling as Monae’s Afrofuturistic odyssey – the heady temptress of real-life adventure.
Leaving everything to chance, the duo decided to sell everything they owned, buy a sail boat – incidentally named the Cape Dory, and waltz off into the setting sun, travelling the Atlantic Coast for seven months, and writing these ten lustful tracks on their return to chronicle their adventures.
To most people there would be nothing more exciting than the idea of fucking off the 9-5 and absconding into uncharted territories. Cape Dory should thrive off this sense of unbridled adrenalin, the fear of the unknown, the rush of escapism. It ought to be representative of the dangerous and brave decision to eschew the familiar and shelter of home for months on the open sea. Yet it’s more like a wade in a paddling pool than a round-the-world voyage. Awash with fuzzy, golden-hued 1950’s pop and jangling guitars snuggling up with la-la-la hooks, it’s all very safe, all very comfortable.
Opener ‘Take Me Somewhere’ sets the bar for what’s to come. Although more than just a bit twee, the blissed-out vocals from Alaina cast a warm glow over proceedings, while the track itself, languid and dreamy perfectly encapsulates the image of two lovers drifting out of space and time. However, by the time the surf guitars of ‘Long Boat Pass’ and sweet breath of ‘Cape Dory’ come to pass it’s evident that Tennis have little else of variety to offer.
In truth each of these songs sound so similar to one another, after a while they really do blend into one 30 minute monologue about sailing with lyrics so literal, it quickly spills over into cringeworthy. “Coconut Grove is a very small cove, separated from the sea by a shifting shoal,” gently croons Alaina on ‘Marathon’, while later on the album’s eponymous track she sings; “I could see the ocean floor, in the pale moon light. Oh, let’s explore the shelter …till the morning rises, And we won’t turn back to the shores out of sight.” I mean you’d hardly expect them to have been off battling with the Kracken, but come on… you’d expect the adventure of a lifetime to sound more exciting than this.
Tennis however, are a band that are inextricably defined by their relationship with one another – matching sheep tattoos are just the cutesy wrapping of a myriad eye-rollingly trite features. When Alaina sings; “I’ll hold the ship tight, keeping watch through the night. I will be there I promise to take good care of you,” it’s more indicative of their months on open water than the endless references to sand banks, ocean floors and fisherman lines. What’s keeping Cape Dory afloat isn’t the spirit of exploration but the power of love. Think about it realistically, as exciting as it sounds, while sailing the world there would undoubtedly be more than a few long monotonous stretches of nothing but the perennial blue water for company, and in this case, Alaina and Patrick looking into each others eyes. While their debut is as much an endearing celebration of companionship, it’s just a shame it never comes close to capturing the thrill of the experience that inspired it.