Album Review: The Futureheads – Rant

By on Monday, 2nd April 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Sometimes the unlikeliest things happen. A black and white silent film has won the best picture Oscar. Newcastle are level on points with Chelsea late in the season. A sumptuous a capella album has been recorded by a bunch of Wearside lads better known for their jagged guitar-led post-punk. We are being excessively taxed on behalf of natural variations in the Earth’s climate. These are strange times.

To the topic at hand: most groups follow a conventional career trajectory of releasing increasingly directional material of their own invention. But what if a band take the time out to reassess who they really are; what they stand for; and most importantly what music should represent them in these unpredictable times? For that is what the Futureheads have done.

‘Rant’ presents twelve songs arranged for voices only. There are five Futureheads originals re-imagined, four traditional standards and a handful of covers. What they share in common is that they are all far superior to the original recordings.

The evidence? ‘Meet Me Halfway’, originally a discarded Black Eyed Peas track, is unrecognisably reimagined for voice; ditto for Kelis and Sparks. The four-part harmony has never been so front-and-centre, so full of its own self-confidence, and so appreciably better than its source material, that at first hearing one literally takes a second breath, deletes the memory of the originals, and starts afresh with that which is presented. Neither has there been such a definitively Wearside album – the accents are parodically strong, but that is not to say they are fake – there is a deep history of upbringing, of living the life of baby, child, teenager, and finally the release of adulthood in the sound of each voice of the four. Anyone who knows the men involved will recognise each voice as an individual; it’s probably better to let them all blend into one satisfying whole.

There is so much to digest here, it seems unfair to choose one song over another. But the star of the show is undoubtedly ‘Beeswing’, written by Richard Thompson and famously described in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity as England’s finest electric guitarist. A heart of stone would surely melt on hearing this period tale of hard living, hard drinking, and hard loss; Thompson’s original is lethargic in comparison with the urgency and emotion with which the ‘Heads infuse this poignant tale of love in a world where one’s independence was all there was to live for.

The most intriguing aspect of this collection is that it is as if the Futureheads have discovered a new way in which to interpret songs; whether it be their own, other contemporaries, or traditional songs. In dispensing with any instrumentation, four men have delved into the soul of the pieces and emerged with a way of portraying them with their essence laid bare. In every case, the originals sound distant; their employment of instrumentation a distraction from the essential message of the piece. Why not just sing every song – whither the piano or guitar at all?

In any event, the traditional pieces have never sounded or been arranged better: for instance, their arrangement of ‘The Old Dun Cow’ (live gig video here) is an utter bawdy delight, showing an affiliation with the folk songs of the North East which cannot be faked or approximated. The salty sea shanty tang, the football chant, the chorus of drunks emerging from the pub on match day: this is the sound of Rant. At once humble and arrogant, vibrantly performed with the energy of men singing with purpose, and a genetic knowledge of that which they present. Faultless in choice of material, arrangement, and execution, ‘Rant’ is an instant modern classic.

9.5/10

‘Rant’, the new and unusual album from the Futureheads, is out today on the band’s own label Nul.

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