Review Summary: From Bloc Party to Radiohead, “The future is not what it used to be”.
Certain album reviews will stick with a reader over many years, and while it will usually be due to a reviewer perfectly capturing your thoughts towards a recording, it can also be for other not-so-positive reasons. One such article that comes to mind is NME’s review of ‘Antidotes’; the 2008 debut LP of English quintet Foals. A magazine commonly seen as the major offender of over-hyping new bands, NME ironically decided to begin this particular review with “How to deal with hype, lesson #1: …”. The write-up progressed (satisfactorily) along before ending with “lesson #4: Make a really good album but not a great one. Let reviewers remind everyone Radiohead’s first album was not ‘The Bends’ but ‘Pablo Honey’. Alert everyone to your potential but don’t fulfill it”.
Apart from it sounding bewildering that any artist would purposefully rein back the quality of an album, even mentioning Radiohead (excluding that both bands hail from Oxfordshire) appeared to contradict the purpose of the piece. Playing a catchy brand of indie-rock with some dance-punk and math-rock tendencies; Bloc Party, Battles and !!! (two of which were mentioned) appeared to be the more relevant comparisons, and any association with the critically acclaimed Thom Yorke led quintet seemed optimistic at best. Well, after listening to Foals’ follow-up album ‘Total Life Forever’, I am not quite ready to wipe the egg from my face just yet, but through dumb luck or brilliant analysis, it seems that our NME correspondent just may have been on to something.
That is not to say that ‘Total Life Forever’ sounds identical to Radiohead’s 1995 classic ‘The Bends’. The comparison is more to do with the progression made between both band’s first two full-length releases. This advancement can immediately be heard on the measured beginning of five minute opener ‘Blue Blood’, as majestic vocals combine with a pronounced bass-line, before exploding into a glorious chorus and weaving dual guitars. While ‘Blue Blood’ acts as a perfect bridge between albums, the (almost disconcertingly) Cure-like Miami and title track which follow, both suggest the band’s priority is to streamline the accessible indie sound that was sometimes awkwardly mixed on their debut. However, while this is done to only so-so effect on those two tracks, the subsequent thirteen minutes prove that this is not the same Foals we have known… This is a much more ambitious outfit.
If the expansive six minutes of ‘Black Gold’ does not take your breath away, then lead single and bona fide song of the year contender ‘Spanish Sahara’ is certain to do so. This epic behemoth is initially patient and methodical, as elements are gradually added to make for a thoroughly satisfying build-up. Nearing seven minutes in length, it is also the track which highlights just how much lead vocalist Yannis Philippakis has improved, as his emotional and spine-tingling performance seems leagues away from his arguably repetitive yelp of the past. Also improved this time around are the lyrical themes, which seem much more focused, while still being sufficiently cryptic without verging on nonsense.
Thankfully, Foals continue the momentum right up to the very end of the LP, as they combine all of their strengths seamlessly, but rarely predictably. Second single ‘This Orient’ is the album’s most commercial offering, with its surface-level pop hooks being nicely complimented by shimmering guitars, atmospheric layers of synth and a solid beat. The rousing mid-section rock-out of the precariously placed ‘After Glow’ then nicely segues into the gorgeous melodies of ‘Alabaster’ and ‘2 Trees’, with their brilliantly crafted percussive sounds and guitar work. And it all ends with the tense ‘What Remains’, a closer which contains enough subtle mood, pace and theme changes, that it could soundtrack the lengthy running time of ‘Apocalypse Now’. Strangely enough, on an album that contains five other tracks that stretch out beyond five minutes, it is the one song which could have done with even more freedom and time.
At the end of the chorus of ‘Black Gold’, Philippakis sings “The future is not what it used to be”. One would not at all be surprised if this was a motto of sorts for Foals as they were putting together ‘Total Life Forever’, since the greater ambition and maturity evident here could not have been foreseen by anyone. It may not be an especially immediate album, and is definitely not one which can be listened to as background music for fifty minutes, but its slow-burning qualities turn what initially may seem a little messy, into a satisfyingly cohesive release. “Now look back, see how far you’ve come” cites ‘This Orient’, and Foals should heed their own words and be extremely proud of ‘Total Life Forever’.
Recommended Tracks: Spanish Sahara, Blue Blood, This Orient, What Remains & 2 Trees.
I’ve been listening to this (and pretty much only this) for the past fortnight and it just continues to grow & grow on me… It was a solid 4 for most of that time, but when I was trying to narrow it down to 4 or 5 recommended tracks, it tipped me over the line to a 4.5. I feel guilty for not putting ‘Black Gold’ in there.
The album is definitely worthy of a year-end Top 10 spot and ‘Spanish Sahara’ will be right up there in Song of the Year contention as well.
This also may be the toughest review I have had to write hitherto. I wasn’t totally comfortable with the NME/Radiohead introduction and/or the summary (& expect to cop some flak for it), but I had to get going somehow and that ended up being the spark.
I must respectfully disagree that 'The Bends' is their 3rd worst album, but even if it was, it (a) still should be rated highly, and (b) played a huge part in what was to come after it.
Sometimes, bands come to a fork in the road and must choose a certain direction. The direction Foals have taken with 'TLF' is much more similar to the one Radiohead chose with The Bends, than say Bloc Party's decision on 'A Weekend In The City'.
"so i take it you didn't like a weekend in the city" 2.5. Strangely, one of the things I didn't like was so many overlong songs, a fact that is also evident on this album. But the direction both bands chose to head in are almost totally different. And maybe that's why Bloc Party is only just holding together as we speak.
"This is suprisingly mature, and also pretty great. Good review, good album." Thanks Tom. If you're still going to review it, I very much look forward to your thoughts. And btw, if it wasn't outright plagiarism, I was tempted to steal your sound-off for my summary. It sounded better than 'Foals are coming around The Bends'. LOL.
Is May-5 important somewhere, is it? Or is any day a klaptastic day to drink?
sgrevs, this is such a change in sound & direction, that i am certain you will not be the only one to feel that way. But I'm unsure their (still excellent) debut separated them from the pack as much as you think it did.
Haha, your summary is just fine the way it is. I like the idea of comparing the progression from album to album between two bands, good job. What do you think about the choice of single? I'm suprised they chose "The Orient Sahara" over the instantly appealing "Miami", but I guess they wanted to illustrate the new aspects of their sound too.
"you disappoint me davey" History is not my strength Rudy. I will apologize to General Ignacio when next I see him.
"Haha, your summary is just fine ... What do you think about the choice of single?" Thanks, because I'm certain there will be a few who take issue. As for the choice of single, I personally agree with it... But I know many will not. mutatedfreek has already asked me why I didn't think 'Miami' was as strong as some other songs and I am really unsure why. It could be The Cure thing, because it is very similar, but I dunno, it just lacks This Orient's catchiness I guess.