News and Tributes
es! No. Yes! No. Yes! No"—The Futureheads kick off their latest album, News and Tributes with the sound of indecision. That sounds just about right. News is frustratingly inconsistent, which is a backhanded compliment really; inconsistency is only frustrating if the good parts are really good. And they certainly are, although much of the chaos of their self-titled debut is gone. Their frenzied dance-punk assault has been toned down a smidge, the whirling tornado-cane vocal arrangements mostly tamed and herded into a pseudo-chorus of backup singers.
On songs like “Fall Out,” this ensemble approach works well, lending added momentum to isolated moments (specifically the chorus, “After days in the dark / A light broke through / And it was beautiful to see you / And sit in the warm with you”). But “Fall Out” also reassures fans that The Futureheads didn’t forget to bring the essentials from their last album. The track is driven by a mercilessly energetic beat reinforced by falsetto vocal stabs, the perfect engine for its alternating lefty-loosey / righty-tighty bars. And when that wall of voices hits, it blows everything else right off the mix.
Much of the first half of the album is a strong continuation of their debut LP, with “Cope” and “Skip to the End” joining “Fall Out” as future classics. “Cope” is the prize of the trio, as it wholly embraces the band’s uniquely frenetic energy and ADHD arrangements. On it, prowling guitar scowls along with insistent toms while harmonies materialize like light refracting through a prism. The unstoppable spasmodic beat eventually lands on the chorus proclamation, “We make it, we make it, we make it hard for you to cope.” “Skip to the End” is full of Futureheads staples: a simple repetitive rock beat, perky pop-up harmonies, and an eminently singable and danceable “Na Na Nah” chorus. Ultimately, it’s the rump-shaking tambourine at the end that seals the deal.
The group doesn’t take advantage of the fact they’re essentially a post-punk barbershop quartet often enough, though. The title track, a subdued tribute to the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, was just begging for an a cappella treatment. Instead, they castrate their own style, reining in their infectious energy and scattershot vocals. All they succeed in doing is creating a forgettable song and naming their album after it. “The snow came and sent them all to sleep”? That’s the tribute? They might have been better off outsourcing this to Sufjan Stevens.
Nothing in this second-half approaches the feverish feel of their first album, except the mindless thrashing and writhing of “Return of the Berserker” (apparently actually hearing the vocals on “Berserker” is optional). Without their usual torrent of high-speed rhythms and juke-step lyrical arrangements, The Futureheads lose a little of their swagger and start making bad decisions. “Back to the Sea” gets fair marks, but with such a smoothly paved guitar/drums arrangement and lack of any remotely interesting vocal or lyrical events, cutesy handclaps aren’t enough to save it. “Easy,” the album’s closer, is basically musical oatmeal. The hi-hat/snare rhythm resembles something that might have once been good. Those oft-mentioned angular guitars are kind of lagging (perhaps they’re obtuse angles?). And yes, technically there are multiple varying vocal layers like other Futureheads songs, but in this case they actually manage to add up to less than the sum of their parts.
Don’t get me wrong, News and Tributes is a solid album, and its high points are worth listening to over and over. Unfortunately, some of the weaker tracks were given primetime slots. Next time, hide “Easy” in the 4th or 5th slot, and maybe name the album Cope or Worry About It Later. Regardless, News and Tributes remains a frustrating collection of hits and misses. Are The Futureheads still writing great, original, entertaining songs? Yes. Should at least a third of these tracks be considered among them? No.
Reviewed by: Jeff Shreve
Reviewed on: 2006-06-14