If there’s one thing that we all learned so far this year, it’s that the world wants teenage punk rockers from Northern England. And we especially want ’em if they have a relatively stupid band name. The Arctic Monkeys‘ instant success — not only their rapid chart-climbing in the U.K., whose fickle music press anoints a new darling as often as Pete Doherty does something crazy, but also their blogger-induced Stateside recognition — left a bad taste in my mouth. Good, but just not that great, the Monkeys always cause me to reflect on my favorite British teenage souls, the Futureheads. Though its 2004 debut made a minor splash — and let’s face it, the band’s name kind of sucks, too the Futureheads didn’t have this hyperbolic frenzy surrounding it, and after relentless touring, was ultimately cast aside for the next even bigger thing.
Fortunately, Sunderland’s Futureheads have a few talents that the Monkeys do not: a fuller sound being one, stouter songwriting being another. The band’s signature four-part harmonies have the feel of a cute gimmick, but it’s this that propels their songs, rendering them vast and dense. The members’ reworking of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” canonized the song as the single it always could be, and “First Day” and “Decent Days and Nights” were some of the year’s best tracks for the MTV2 set. The debut’s fatal flaw may have been the members’ youthful eagerness, a need to blast the listener with this raw innovation. With their follow-up, the members have settled into diverse captivation.
With News & Tributes, the band has matured to where the songs are initially gratifying but also grant further rewards with subsequent scrutiny. Lead single “Skip to the End” has the same initial pop kick as the debut’s “Decent Days and Nights,” but it’s complex enough so that it doesn’t grow tiresome after several spins. Having perfected their Jam-meets-Clash (with harmonies) formula, here the members slow their pace in the right areas. Whereas the debut had just one a capella track to let you catch your breath, News & Tributes takes the slow lane on several songs, giving the record much-needed pacing. Most notable here are the title track and “Back to the Sea,” where Ross Millard’s polished vocals step to the forefront, providing a calming base for the track’s slick riffs.
Producer by Ben Hiller (Blur, Doves) apparently set up recording camp on a farm compound, using the different spaces (guitars in a greenhouse, drums in a barn) to gain a variety of distinct sounds. The approach recalls Steve Albini’s creative recording of the Pixies‘ Surfer Rosa. These various tricks result in the full frenzy of tracks such as “Return of the Berzerker” and “Favours for Favours.” Compact at twelve tracks in about thirty-five minutes and boasting enough potential singles to fill the rest of the ’06 U.K. charts, News and Tributes should solidify the significant role these four lads will play in English rock’s never-ending pissing contest.
Vagrant Records Web site