Around the grand year of 2004, there was a sharp influx of British bands making waves on U.S. shores. Call it a mini or secondary British invasion, but with bands such as Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party leading the way with stellar debut albums, this “angular” movement quickly gained momentum. As we saw in the years that followed, that momentum quickly petered out thanks to poorly crafted sophmore albums and the ever-changing tastes of music fans. The Futureheads were part of this group of British bands, and while they may not have gotten quite the press that some of their counterparts did, their self-titled debut album was nothing to scoff at. In certain circles, primarily critical ones, The Futureheads were a beloved band whose energetic punk style and effortless vocal harmonies made them unique and fun. That their most talked about moment to date is their cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” is something of a testament to how quickly their star rose and faded, even if their second album 2006’s “News & Tributes” wasn’t bad. That record was a bit slower and broader than their debut, and fans responded with timidity and indifference. The band’s last record “This Is Not The World” took an even further step away from the unique sound of their debut in favor of going as broad and pop friendly as possible. It was a gambit that failed admirably, and though they may not have faded into obscurity as a result of it, the album definitely didn’t do them any favors. With their new album “The Chaos”, The Futureheads seem to be looking to turn things around and get back to basics.
The most noticeable thing about “The Chaos” on first listen is that the songs are faster, leaner and more experimental than most of their past two albums combined. That’s apparent right from the get-go, when the opening song and title track counts you down with a “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Let’s Go!” and proceeds to speed through 4 minutes with a vigor The Futureheads haven’t done in awhile. “Struck Dumb” fares even better as it incorporates more of the band’s trademark harmonies and witty lyrics while also keeping you slightly off balance and wondering where the next left turn will be. Unfortunately the 2.5 minutes of “Heartbeat Song” come next, and the more tempered and radio-friendly side of the band rears its ugly head once again. The song’s not terrible, but it’s probably the weakest thing that this album has to offer. One of the more exciting tracks comes in the form of “The Connector”, which functions much like a carefully crafted circuit that gets hit with a shout’s worth of vocal harmoniy every few seconds. It makes for one of the more memorable and exciting Futureheads songs to date. Where a song like “I Can Do That” goes wrong is by combining some fast-paced guitar chords with a chorus that repeats the song’s title over and over again. It’s eerily reminiscent of the Kaiser Chiefs, and this band is better than that. A solid guitar solo and halfway decent verses help but don’t completely pull the track out of the gutter. The same goes for “Sun Goes Down”, though the final minute of the song which descends into fuzzed out madness complete with screaming is a welcome twist. Much of the rest of “The Chaos” is classic first album Futureheads, replete with energy, bursts of great harmonies, and curveballs when it comes to song structure. They have an uncanny ability to throw you for a loop and then wrap up a song just as you’re starting to get your bearings straight. If this album has one clear standout highlight, you’ve got to wait until the very end to hear it. The first 40 seconds of “Jupiter” are done completely a capella before guitars come in and bring an odd energy to the song only made odder by the harmonies that develop out of the verses as if the band’s been struck by ADD momentarily. There’s a breakdown at the end of the song where everything comes to a stop and you’re left with just a slow, quiet vocal, but things burst to life once again for one last slap through the chorus before shutting down completely. That, combined with the 90 seconds of pure a capella that serves as a hidden track make up the most brilliant 6 minutes The Futureheads have given us to date. It’s exciting, unpredictable stuff that’s energized and thrilling and gives a clearer picture as to what smart direction the band could move towards next.
Don’t call it a comeback just yet, though The Futureheads never really left in the first place, but “The Chaos” provides a clear reminder of exactly why this band got noticed in the first place. It may be a return to form, and in fact some might view it as the band trying to reclaim their past, but what this record really has to offer is both the acknowledgment by the band that they’re now fully aware of where their strengths lie, and also a few ideas of where they could head in the future. For fans of the band that felt let down by the past couple albums because they didn’t live up to the promise of the first one, now might be a good time to have another look at The Futureheads. They’re not quite operating at the absolutely brilliant level of their debut as there are some shades of the last two records still hanging about, but it’s a remarkable show of strength by a band that many had abandoned after the broader and simpler material just wasn’t their fancy. Should you be new to this party and have yet to discover what The Futureheads are offering, now seems as good of a time as any to get on board with these guys and their manic punk sensibilities. “The Chaos” is a fun record almost all the way through, and the title provides much truth in advertising as well. Invest yourself in a copy of it should you be so inclined.
P.S. – The Futureheads are currently on a short U.S. tour. If you’re able, go see them live!
The Futureheads U.S. Tour Dates:
June 2 – Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church
June 3 – Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
June 4 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat
June 5 – Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwells
June 7 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
June 8 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
June 10 – Toronto, ONT @ Mod Club
June 11 – Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick
June 12 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall