Future of the Left - "Arming Eritrea" (Travels With Myself and Another)
When Andy Falkous barks "Iím not a cynic, or one of those guys" at the start of Travels with Myself and Another, I take him at face value. That may not be the right approach. Given the squalors that he sings about, heís clearly one those guys who enjoys slipping into the perspective of weirdos and creeps. Itís hard to tell where his own creep-weirdo tendencies begin and end. I donít believe him when he says, "I was running through the fields when I came across a dead guy with a letter in his hand. So I scanned it." But I do believe that Travels is the best thing heís ever done.
McLusky, his last band, started more than decade ago when his brand of loud-soft psychosis-rock still had some continuity with its origins: early Touch & Go records. Falkousí lyrics dripped with the same bemused misanthropy, and he was just as good at coming up with scrapie riffs. (Scrapie not just in guitar tone, but as in the degenerative brain disease in sheep.) But McLusky were younger and came from Wales, and the connection to Big Black and Jesus Lizard was more about admiration (and recording with Albini) than being part of a scene. Those discs have picked up a following on their own, but they never escaped the shadow of U.S. indie-noise that motivated them.
Future of the Left still sounds like post-hardcore, but Falkousí presence has come into itís own. His ability to twist a slogan now has a satirical heft to match the blast of his music. He keeps provoking, but heís not provoking blindly. So the anthemic chorus of "come join our hopeless cause" is undercut by the song title Ė "The Hope That House Built" Ė flipping it from a football anthem to commentary on the mortgage bubble. The mundane keeps deflating the epic; socks are worn to an orgy, a Dear John letter disrupts an officer involved in a coup. Itís a British sort of irony, possibly more natural for him than his Chicago homages. The choruses here have some glam rock turn-arounds, too, the sort of thing that comes easier to a songwriter whoís grown up with Slade overplayed every Christmas season.
Thereís synth on this record, but youíd hardly notice. Itís as overdriven as the guitar, just a little more plastic. Pop songs loaded up with ugliness arenít new territory, but the machine-precise playing finds a way to make each one jolt and surprise. Itís all engaging on first listen, and the lyrics are cryptic enough to stay intriguing past another dozen. Whatís really rare is the idealism buried under the bowel movements and scrotum adjustments, and the arms dealers and club owners who populate this set. The climactic jab, "Lapsed Catholics", targets bruvs who bond over Shawshank Redemption, and unwinds into a meditation on the banality of evil, coming to the conclusion that dogmatic morality might be inescapable. At four minutes, itís twice as long as Falkousí other stabs on Travels, but every last one of them is that ambitious, not to mention worthy of his screams for attention.