The Futureheads - News & Tributes

Everyone’s got a Lil’ Ralphie in the family: that hyperactive, slightly special-ed toddler. He’s a barrel of monkeys for a few minutes – maybe ten if you’ve got him on a leash. But after an hour, you wish the kid had a remote control so you could hit the oh-so-merciful MUTE. This is essentially how I feel about The Futureheads circa 2004. Wide-eyed and eager, the British foursome unleashed a torrent of short, beautifully energetic tracks on their self-titled debut. Reminiscent of early Oingo Boingo (if their tour bus had had a head-on collision with a barbershop quartet), the album was a love letter to early 80’s post-punk pop, mercifully broken up by intermittent, four-part harmonies. They were eager to display their love of the bands that obviously inspired them, but the album’s overabundance of energy ran counter to accessibility.

News & Tributes, the band’s sophomore effort, shows that the foursome have rapidly matured. Of their own admission, the News represents the twelve fresh tracks, while the Tributes are dedicated to the important events and individuals in their lives that inspired their music. Explains lead guitarist/vocalist Barry Hyde, “Every song anyone writes is a tribute to someone or something, and all of these songs are being heard for the first time - so are news.” Thanks to two years of touring and travel, it seems that the band finally has something to write about. Much like the evolution of 80’s guitar-pop, the ‘Heads seem to have finally worked through the adolescent sugar-high, reaching a new plateau of honest introspection and solid riffs. They’ve buried mindless fun in favor of Elvis Costello.

Produced by Ben Hillier (Depeche Mode, The Doves, Blur), it’s no coincidence that the album’s mellow moments sound eerily like some of The Doves louder outbursts. The album feels solid from the get go. It’s full of radio-friendly rock, yet mercifully lacking the pretentious, asymmetrical hairdos and testicle-retracting jeans of the latest hipster rock royalty.

“Yes-No” is a rowdy garage rock intro that is sure to be a crowd pleaser with its screaming call and return of ”YES”… “NO.” It harkens back to their debut, and as such, is silly fun. Next stop is “Cope,” the first sign that things have indeed changed for the ‘Heads. Fun and accessible yet hard driving and mature, it feels like the band was eager to channel their Foo Fighter mojo. (It’s apparently no coincidence that drummer Dave Hyde can count Grohl as one of his admirers.) If “Cope” was able to display their newfound strength, “Skip to the End” clearly shows the group’s growing maturity. A powerful opening riff gives way to their familiar four-way harmony, and then glides into a pleasantly surprising Costello-like hook. You can literally hear them evolve in the studio. “Burnt” is yet another highlight, with its guitars dueling and reverbing, inexplicably referencing all sorts of twenty-year old Aussie rock from Midnight Oil to Men at Work. The song is soulful yet thankfully not emo.

Obviously, most of the album works. Producer Hillier and the guys lead us on a surprisingly satisfying, fluent journey – something which was sorely lacking in their previous effort. To be more exact, I should say that 11/12th’s of the album works. To be COMPLETELY precise, songs one through five are great… and tracks seven through twelve follow suit. “So,” you ask, “what about “Return of the Berserker”? You know - the sixth track - smack dab in the middle of the album? THAT FLY IN YOUR SOUP?”

Like the Viking berserkers of Ye Olde Englande, this track tore into my head with a steel guitar pick of vengeance. It killed my buzz and nearly drove me to hunt for that child-leash and “Blues Clues” DVD. Damnit, me thinks Lil’ Ralphie needs a nap. You guys almost had me…why oh why?? Don’t get me wrong, the song is great. It’s a relentless feast of high-speed bass kicks and guitar strumming, and it does indeed rock. But it’s on it’s own. Can anyone say “B-Side” or “encore track”? Why they thought this needed to be squeezed into the middle of such a thoughtful album is anyone’s guess. Maybe the answer is in the title… that angry little Berserker child from album number one just needed to be let out one last time. Fine, ok. Next time though, it’s back to the closet Lil’ Ralphie… or you get the leash.

-- Sir Crackmatic

Release Date: June 13, 2006 (US)

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