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The Futureheads - Powers (Album Review)

Monday, 02 September 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

‘Powers’ is the Futureheads’ sixth studio album and the first since the band went on hiatus following the lukewarm reception to their excellent a capella offering ‘Rant!’ in 2013. It is a return to the thrashy post punk sound that characterised their early success, and while familiar problems arise with several songs, it is a record of intricate and innovative arrangements that should place them firmly back on the European festival circuit next year.

Across the Border is a snarling battering ram of a song that comments on the Brexit mess and perceptions about regions like their hometown of Sunderland, a declining northeastern city that voted to leave the EU despite being clear economic beneficiaries of the union.

As such, Sunderland finds itself doubly maligned—by liberal remainers who see such voting patterns as quixotic and short-sighted, and by the Tory right, who historically mistrust and ignore the leftwing north.

Guitarist and vocalist Ross Millard captures the emotional and political complexity of the situation with great candour: “No-one likes to feel stupid / Stupid is a subjective thing / Subjective is how you feel today / And today's the day you're giving up.”

Elsewhere, Good Night Out is one of the catchier tunes. It occupies familiar ground to post-2005 indie; state-of-the-nation commentary told with wit and irreverence alongside big guitar hooks and a fully loaded chorus. It’s an easy song to admire and certainly one of the standouts, but in certain ways it reveals why the Futureheads tend to find themselves down the indie pecking order, behind contemporaries like Kaiser Chiefs, the Libertines and the outliers, Arctic Monkeys. 

Due to their focus on vocal harmony, Futureheads songs have an intellectual sonic rigour that marks them out, but their overloaded musicality sometimes gets in the way of the melody making. The sound is heavy, but also a little overpowering. Idle Hands is also guilty of this, as is the otherwise excellent Headcase—a track that bravely broaches frontman Barry Hyde’s mental health challenges with integrity and a dash of humour.

Sometimes with pop music, you just want something with emotional softness; maybe even a specifically romantic feminine sensibility, and there’s not much of that on ‘Powers’. Tellingly, their finest hours remain cover versions of other artists’ songs: the superb retelling of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love from their eponymous first album, and their magical interpretation of Richard Thompson’s Beeswing on ‘Rant’.

There is no shame in your best work being penned by other artists, of course, but these other songs highlight what is missing in the Futureheads' writing, and that makes an otherwise superb album ever so slightly unsatisfying.

The Futureheads Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed September 04 2019 - SUNDERLAND Bonded Warehouse
Fri December 06 2019 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Sat December 07 2019 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Sun December 08 2019 - LEEDS Leeds Beckett Students Union
Fri December 13 2019 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Northumbria Institute
Sat December 14 2019 - GLASGOW QMU
Sun December 15 2019 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz

Click here to compare & buy The Futureheads Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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