Review Summary: The Futureheads arrive, revived and ready to move
About 7 years ago, The Futureheads released the baffiling a cappella album/experiment Rant to unanimous confusion from reviewers and listeners alike. For a band that spent the entirety of their career in what seemed to be a tailspin, this seemed to be the moment they finally crashed in a heaping blaze of infamy. After Rant, there was little on the Futureheads front. The band’s members went off to do their own music or just take up other jobs. Even the band’s lead singer, Barry Hyde, was in training to become a chef of all things. For a moment in time, it seemed like that was it for what was once one of the most promising up-and-coming indie rock bands.
Troubles behind the scenes began to unfold as well, with Hyde being diagnosed with bipolar disorder after living with manic breakdowns since the beginning of his music career (at the all-too-young age of 19). While this information only came out a few years removed from Rant’s release, it does paint a picture of a band very clearly splintering apart at exactly the right moment. The bottom line is: this decade has been unusually and excessively cruel to the Futureheads.
So when they returned from their hiatus with the explosive track “Jekyll”, I was more than a little confused. A band that was (for all intents, constructions, and purposes) dead seemed to re-animate right before my very eyes. Those angular guitars, those yelping vocals, that sing-a-long chorus: it was the Futureheads. Not the Futureheads from a decade ago, not even the Futureheads from their debut. But a bolder, more focused sound that was immediately refreshing to the ears. A revival.
On the album front, “Jekyll” goes directly into another released single “Good Night Out”. A more mid-tempo tune, it doesn’t have that same energy that made me instantly adore “Jekyll”, but it does work as a fairly standard, yet catchy tune. Thankfully, these more tepid tracks (fellow single “Listen, Little Man!”, the Strokes-like “7:04”, “Stranger in a New Town”) take a back seat to the more impactful tracks. The delightful new wave stylings of “Electric Shock” hide what is easily the most intriguing part of this new album: the darker themes. Knowing what the band has gone through this decade, this shift is a no-brainer, and they pull it off remarkably well here. Many songs on Powers seem to directly reference Barry Hyde’s experiences dealing with his recently-diagnosed disorder. The most obvious of these is the aptly-titled “Headcase”, whose lyrics leave little up to interpretation:
“Can you please just sit down?”
”Why can't you take a pause?”
”There's no one at the door.”
But nowhere is this done better than on “Animus”, possibly the band’s best song to date. A personal account of Hyde’s, the song directly reflects how he lost the ability to perform basic adult tasks as a result of being under the guidance of a manager. He felt as if he had no autonomy, no qualifications. Which explains why he would go on to pursue a new career away from music: to regain his control.
“Is your life a fantasy?"
"Of everything that you can't be?"
"Maybe you could get things done.”
Powers most likely won’t signify the start of another “post-punk revival”. So much time has passed since that 2004 debut and there are bound to be those that say this new one doesn’t reach those heights. But Powers will be remembered, at least in my eyes, as a revival for the Futureheads. The album that brought the band back into my good graces. Even with its weaker moments, there is an energy on Powers that we haven’t seen from this group in a very long time. It's true after all, “only movement can set you free”.