Album Review: The Futureheads – Powers

Powers

The Futureheads were one of the most consistent bands during the first decade of this century.

Regular as clockwork, a new album came every two years from 2004 to 2012. Not only consistent in timing but also in quality, their first four were laden with punchy indie anthems that stood out from their peers; more muscular than Franz Ferdinand, more direct than Maximo Park.

Then, in 2012, after the brave but irritating acapella-only album Rant, the boys to all intents and purposes disbanded. Not for any musical differences, but because lead singer Barry Hyde was suffering from problems with his mental health that were becoming harder to negotiate. By 2015 it seemed the band was no more; drummer Dave Hyde stating they were no longer working together. And yet here they are, back again.

No official reason has been given for their reformation, apart from an admirable willingness to not simply trawl their wares and hits on the festival circuit; it’s about moving forward.

First things first: this is not an easy listen – musically they never have been. Their unique brand of angular art-pop has, whilst demonstrating musical dexterity, always been a razor-sharp assault on the ears. This continues on Powers, but the subject matter is very personal, Hyde’s struggles with his health dominating the album.

Lead single Jekyll was an effective way to announce their return, with all their USPs compressed into four minutes. The illogical chord sequences, brutal drumming and vocal harmonies are all present and correct, albeit with a touch more drama than in the past. Listen, Little Man!, another recent single, could also only be them, all wonky stomp and winding, furious guitars. The former is about the unpredictability of human behaviour, the latter about the suppression or lack of aspiration of the common person in the modern age.

The frantic rattle of Headcase which, despite evoking the Batman theme tune (never a bad idea), could be a recollection of the conversations that took place when they disbanded (‘don’t forget to ask for help’), while the sheen of Electric Shock could be the Stranger Things theme tune given, well, a jolt with steroids.

Once you understand the themes of the album, you can guess the subject matter from the titles. Animus is probably the most on-message track here; laced with real urgency (even more than usual), it conveys the suffocation of depression in both music and lyrics.

There are other things on the band’s minds too; Across The Border is a social commentary rant about their home region of Sunderland, the poster boy of Brexit. Ross Millard’s distorted vocals are a punky stream of consciousness over fuzzy bass, attempting to offer insight into why people felt compelled to vote the way they did, and a reminder as to what they are losing in the process.

On the other side of the coin, Good Night Out echoes The Faces in both theme (‘you’d swap it all in a second for a good night out’) and sound, all swaggering guitars and seventies good time rock. The trademark ‘ohhhs’ do veer into early Kaiser Chiefs territory, but such is the risk they run.

Ross Millard is able to project a bit more emotion than Barry’s more direct style, and it works well on Stranger In A New Town which is Elbow in spirit and tone but Gang Of Four in style. On Don’t Look Now, a straight forward love song put through the unique Futureheads prism, he successfully conveys yearning (‘afraid to say what we want from tomorrow’). Both are refreshing palette cleansers against the cacophony of guitars that dominate the album.

They sound revitalised after their sabbatical, but as ever it takes a few listens to differentiate between the songs, and it’s probably a track or two too long. But Powers is a heavy album in both content and sound, more often than not delivered in the inimitable, playful Futureheads fashion.

A welcome return.

7/10

(Richard Bowes)

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