Monday, 2 April 2012

The Futureheads - Rant

Today sees The Futureheads' a capella album Rant go on sale, along with the double A-side of Meet Me Halfway/The No.1 Song in Heaven, and the start of the group's UK tour to promote the album. The tour kicks off in Brighton tonight, ending in Manchester on April 13th after ten performances and just two nights off. It's a hectic schedule, and it's probably no surprise to see 'Glee Club' listed as the venue for both Birmingham and Nottingham, given the furore surrounding the TV show Glee.

If you're expecting senselessly uplifting, pseudo-a-capella power ballads, though, Rant is not for you. It's proper a capella, and that means no backing track, just a symphony of voices providing everything from the vocals to the instrumentals. It's a celebration of the human voice, and of a broad range of tracks including The Futureheads favourites, a reinvented Black Eyed Peas tune and a folk-rock classic from Richard Thompson.

You might expect a fairly confused result, with such broad influences, but The Futureheads' distinctive vocals are understandably even more evident on Rant than on some of their previous works, and the outcome is actually a very consistent and impressive album.
Rant (Bonus Version) - The Futureheads
High Points

For sheer surprise, Meet Me Halfway has to take the biscuit. Not only the song choice in itself, but the fact that The Futureheads' a capella arrangement of it is far, far superior to the original. (Yeah yeah, bring on the narky comments from the Black Eyed Peas fans below - your band hasn't the faintest idea what sounds good, they just stick endless vocal and electronic FX on their tracks for no reason.)

It's even better because it's followed straight up by Robot, one of the quirkiest songs ever written. "The best thing is our lifespan, we last nigh on hundred years. If that means we'll be together, I don't mind." It's an obscure song in its own right, but in this eclectic collection it's almost at home alongside some of the more 'normal' tracks.

From there, you're straight into Beeswing, a cover of Richard Thompson's awesome classic, which has rightly come to be known as one of his best compositions. The Futureheads give it the a capella onceover, obviously, and what comes out is different from the original but with the same spirit, and with plenty of respect for Thompson's version.

The Verdict

It's a fucked-up music industry right now, swinging wildly between being dominated by One Direction and Little Mix, to 'fight the power' internet campaigns and 'innovations' like the Black Eyed Peas' garbled electronic effects and Glee's would-be a capella. But Glee's not a capella, especially not in the recorded stuff, and it's always seemed like a missed opportunity to me. The Futureheads have opted for a style with plenty of longevity - just look at how Only You has survived over the years (the Flying Pickets' first number one topped the charts the year I was born, 1983, and has been helped to last down the years by being that year's Christmas number one single, but it's still a firm favourite in many households during the festive season).

Getting back to the subject at hand, and Rant is a fine example of a capella, with the exception of what sounds like a small amount of percussion accompaniment in places - but that's forgivable, as it's clearly the vocals that dominate throughout. It's not a lazy album, though - the a capella backing isn't an attempt to cover up for a lack of instrumental skill, and it's as fast-paced as any of The Futureheads' albums. Sure, you might not want to listen to it all day, but it's a shining example of how old-turned-new innovation can keep things fresh, without the need to compromise your musical integrity. For that, The Futureheads have to be praised.

Final Score: 96%

Rant (Bonus Version) - The Futureheads

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