yperbole, eh? Hmm. Fair to say I’m familiar with its application. Write something filled to the bulljacks with over-enthusiasm, certain it’s going to blow everything else away ever, look back a month later and think “Silly, silly boy”. Repeat to fade.
But not here. No.
The Futureheads of a year or two ago could be accused of being a bit farty. The 1-2-3 Nul! EP contained their best track, "Carnival Kids" (reprised here), and three B-Sides that found themselves more irritating than inspiring. You could be forgiven for thinking that they were indeed the clever-clever early-80s plagiarists paragraph one has them pegged as.
The Futureheads of The Futureheads aren’t.
”You thought that I was joking / When I said you were a moron / When I said it I was smiling / So you’d think that I was joking”
There is no guitar band or rock band or whatever the hell you wanna call it in the world today that throws the vocals about quite like The Futureheads do. They all sing, and they all sing in their native North-East English accents. And while you might think it’s an attempt at scoring cute points or going for novelty (I don’t), it’s an approach that reaps stunning rewards. Lots of bands take the two lead singers approach these days, and lots of bands have backing singers as well, but the difference here is their use: the frequency and speed at which they interchange and intersect, the way they don’t go for the call-and-response approach, the sheer speed at which the choruses and verses fly past and change and come in and out, the amount of vocal hook lines and tics that they put in unexpectedly, the way they use their voices simultaneously to create these brief bursts of solid sound that pop up through the songs, and even occasionally going all a cappella, such as on “The Danger Of The Water”. The Futureheads can sing, they use their voices for more than witty remarks and screaming to mean it. The iconic frontmen of the world can stick it.
Not that it ends there, of course.
Picking examples off this album is near-impossible because there are so many and they crop up on almost every song (possible exception being “Alms”—it being the only thing that I think is a bit rubbish). The quote above was probably only pulled out cos it was what I was listening to at the time. The Futureheads do like doing things quickly, and so much goes on in such a short space of time that you’ll find yourself struggling to sort it all out. The key is that you want to. They’re instant, if not quite catchy, first time round. They reward and demand repeated listens. You find yourself with bits of songs stuck in your brain, little choruses and hooks, so you go back to the record to listen to it and hear it again—only to find yourself bypassing it entirely because you’ve started singing along to something else instead.
In terms of the actual noises they make, there will be those who go accusing The Futureheads of formula, lack of variety. There’s those who’ll reckon they’ve not done anything new, just aped… whoever. As The Longpigs once said, “Well… fuck them!” Yes, angular guitars have been done. Yes, this is produced by the feller from Gang Of Four. Oh yes, shouting, shouting, non-RP/London accents, what else do you fuckers want to poke?
The sound throughout is that of a band pushing it, a band that wants to take matters further. Take “Carnival Kids”, now in its third incarnation following its inclusion on their first two EP’s. It’s one of the best songs ever. Intro guitars hmm on the starting line, joined by drums, and spat vocals. One, two, three choruses, two vocal lines run concurrent, the one carrying the narrative line, the other giving back up sometimes by echoing and stressing syllables and lines, the rest of the time spiralling around “oh-ohh-ohh” and “Down-down-down-down!”—are The Futureheads the new Flavor Flav and Chuck D?—then about a minute from the end, it bears up for the final assault, all four voices rising up, and the backing vocal line takes precedence, with the final vocal motif “You should be old enough, you should be old enough, you should be,” and then one by one they all join in, and charge towards the finish, gathering speed and noise like an avalanche, and done. A feather in anyone’s cap, but the album version feels like “Carnival Kids”’ Viking funeral, as they doll it up in full regalia, and send it off in a blaze of glory.
The Futureheads are not fast and angular because they want to sound like whoever you think they sound like, but because they are trying to get the energy and the noise and the fury and the ideas out. This lot sound the way they do precisely because they don’t want to sound like anyone else—this music is a reaction against the boredom and the stagnancy. They even write their songs about that, in case you can’t quite tell—“Stupid and Shallow” (“You eat shit cos you’re stupid and shallow”), “Meantime” (see earlier quote), “Le Garage” (repeated chants of “BULL-SHIT! BULL-SHIT! BULL-SHIT!”), and, best of all, “First Day”, the best song ever about the cunts that can’t see beyond the nameplate on their desk, who refuse to understand that other people might not enjoy what they do, nod and smile but cannot hear a fucking thing—now, see, if those were the lyrics, you’d think to yourself “But I don’t want to listen to the effing Ordinary Boys!” Lucky you:
Welcome to your new job!
Hope you have a wonderful first day!
We are so happy that you have joined the team!
You are so lucky on your first day!
AND THEY SAY:
THIS IS THE JOB THAT PEOPLE DIE FOR!
I HOPE YOU’RE READY FOR THE NEXT STAGE!
A LOT OF PEOPLE WORK IN THE SAME PLACE
DON’T LET THEM GET IN YOUR WAY!
The penultimate song sees The Futureheads do a cover of “Hounds Of Love” by Kate Bush. It’s very good.
This band is so exciting it’s almost unbearable. They wanna change things, and they do it not by writing clever things then standing back to admire them, but pushing forward, forever forward, relentlessly trying to work out what they’re going to do next. Stick with them, because they’re brilliant, and they’re only going to get better.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK - JULY 18 - JULY 24, 2004