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The Futureheads - News and Tributes

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Artist: The Futureheads

Album: News and Tributes

Label: Vagrant

Review date: Jul. 10, 2006

What a disappointment. Two years ago, the Futureheads emerged at the tail end of the Gang of Four revival, hitching soaring harmonized hooks to short and jagged guitar lines. Two minutes was enough to set off landmines like "Robot" and a minute and a half was plenty of canvas for "Stupid and Shallow." Even the epic "Carnival Kids," which careened from blistering attack to sugary melody and back, came in under three minutes. The great achievement of The Futureheads was that there was no fat to cut anywhere. It seemed like an exceptionally powerful sketch, its minimal lines suggesting what would happen when the boys got the time and resources to really cut loose.

Now, with News and Tributes, the sad truth emerges. The Futureheads were lean from hunger, not discipline. With opportunity, they tend toward the flabbiest sort of excess.

"Cope", for instance, starts promisingly enough with a ferocious tangle of guitars, the kind of headlong adrenaline surge that defined one pole of the band's sound. As in "Carnival Kids", the band attempts to combine this fractious energy with soaring pop. But where earlier, multipart vocals caromed off each other in chaotic, joyous abundance, here the song is mostly carried by a single voice. Harmonies come in at the end of the line, an exclamation point that draws attention to the song’s flat melody. "Skip to the End" is more straightforward and ultimately more successful, its skittery guitar lines underlined with sticks on rims, and its wordless chorus exuberantly buoyant.

The whole second half of the album dissolves into blow-dried commercial new waviness. If you're old enough, it'll remind you of hairstyle bands like Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, or Flock of Seagull. A-Ha without the killer video. If Futureheads had always sucked – if they were Hot Hot Heat, for instance – cuts like "Burnt" would simply be unlistenable. When you set these second-half songs against "A to B" or "The City Is Here for You To Use", the drop in energy, the rise in smarminess becomes crushingly depressing.

To add insult to injury, News and Tributes is aggressively copy-protected, to the point where you can't play it on your computer, your car stereo, your portable CD player or anything that requires ripping to iTunes. It's a novel approach to fighting piracy – making a record that very nearly can't be listened to – but I'd say Vagrant's right on the money here. The less people hear this one, the more they'll probably like it.

By Jennifer Kelly

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