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The Futureheads - This Is Not The World

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Artist: The Futureheads

Album: This Is Not The World

Label: Nul

Review date: May. 22, 2008

The last place most bands want to be when releasing their third full-length is out in the world alone, doing it for themselves. A nimble, wound-up ball of energetic pop, the Futureheads are now that band.

They rose up through the rampant, blind enthusiasm of post-9/11 rock & roll recovery; the Karen ’00s, if you will (please, don’t). The British music press was heaving itself back to life, hopefully for the last time, and the Sunderland quartet found itself caught in the crosswinds of its exhaust, cast as second-stringers for playing it by-the-numbers, while already forgotten juggernauts like Franz Ferdinand shot straight into karaoke books, televised sporting events, and the canny repertoires of studio musicians cutting soundalike library music for commercials. The steam the group generated on its own was largely on the back of a peppy, strident cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love.”

Which is a real shame, since the Futureheads would have done just fine had the circumstances shifted a bit more in their favor. For this was a group that knew its place, counted its blessings, and was more than happy to play the living fuck out of it while they had the chance. My one opportunity to catch them live found the group at long-gone Anglophile showbox Rothko on Suffolk St. in New York, the band having rushed down from an opening slot for the aforementioned Glaswegians for a sold-out gig of their own. Clean, bright and presentable with crisp biz-cash button-downs and shiny guitars, they held nothing back from their performance despite having already loaded in, soundchecked, played, loaded out, criss-crossed Manhattan, loaded in one more time, and soundchecked again, bounding between songs with an uncanny vigor and genuine enthusiasm.

Following a string of increasingly catchy singles, their self-titled debut rolled out one bright, beaming, passionately shook pop-punk anthem after another, only stopping once for an a cappella breather. They were Supergrass without the cheek, endowed with a mechanical precision that ricocheted gleefully around the studio walls. The record still holds up as well as it did upon its rollout five years ago, but under-promotion and an unsteady series of backers held the group in check stateside, and though their follow-up News and Tributes would display real growth as songwriters, it fell below the fold on both sides of the Atlantic. Vagrant, the label responsible for its release in the U.S., was so unsure of what it had on its hands that they padded it out with mood-shifting bonus tracks, including an officious remix of a single from the first album, stretching its already lengthy runtime far past the attention span of its audience. A darker and more accomplished effort – their Black Sea, to be sure – News and Tributes ultimately became their Cast of Thousands, resulting in the group’s swift ejection from both their UK label (who’d go onto keep bands with names like We Smoke Fags around), and the subsequent dismissal from all connected licensing agreements. So much for maturity.

This Is Not the World is backed by nothing but courage from the business end, and likely investment capital that needs to be paid back, pronto. It’s pretty stupid to bankroll a record label in 2008, but when you have as much talent and fans as the Futureheads, it’s just as dumb to simply give up. Their U.S. tour consists of one date in New York next month, with some open air in between, no doubt to lock down some sort of deal over here. The group is focusing on festivals and the areas where they’ve got confirmed distribution otherwise. All of this falls under the guise of self-promotion in its purest form, and to that end it’s truly make or break time for the Futureheads. I’ve got to give it up for anyone as willing to put their nuts out on the line as these guys are.

I just wish they’d been a little more adventurous in their songwriting. Their sound is as big and manic as it’s always been, and the melodies as infectious, but the content slinks away from even the prickly personal politics that populated their first singles. No songs about the death of the ’58 Manchester United football team, and their requisite idealism perishing in ice water, here. Instead you get wistfully hackneyed singles like “Radio Heart,” frontman Barry Hyde polishing up his specs to find kindred spirits, “a girl that doesn’t like to dress to impress,” as if the youth in thrall of these guys even listen to radios anymore. They’re looking for the beacon of hope, and doing it with the grace of men on a sinking ship. Opener “The Beginning of the Twist” shows them grinding away at dance-punk beats, as tired as Radio 4.

Every wincing moment of tired familiarity, however, finds a counterpart in a more inspired pairing. Even with nothing more than bursts of energy, they find no problem snapping back into form with racers like “Broke Up the Time” and “Walking Backwards,” aside jagged state-of-the-band addresses like “Sale of the Century” (carefully nicking the central riff to the Groundhogs’ “Cherry Red” in the process).

While there’s not much new on display here, what they’ve been schlepping for all this time is certainly intact and unbroken, their stop-on-a-dime arrangements and buoyant vocal harmonies sounding as exciting as the first time they were unveiled. Perhaps it’s harder to find fault with these guys because they’ve been through the ringer, and are still coming back for more. They’re beyond wanting for fame and notoriety. They know they’re good, and they know they’re loved, and seem content to find solidarity with their fans, seemingly the sole reason This is Not the World exists. This is possibly the Futureheads’ last best chance to make them happy, and they’ve done a selfless, admirable job.

By Doug Mosurock

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News and Tributes

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