The Futureheads - Rant
- David St. Hubbins
We had a water cooler moment the other day, trying to think of artists who, mid-career, ditched their usual modus operandi for something dramatically different. Not the musical chameleonism of David Bowie or the creatively bankrupt sanctuary of the acoustic album - but a genuine left or right turn, rather than a more subtle evolution or development. Once we’d got past The Wedding Present picking up balalaikas for their Ukranians project or, more recently, The Bronx’s turn as a full-blown mariachi band we have to admit candidates rather dried up. This is more likely due to our own failing memories rather than a lack of candidates, so feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments below.
Which brings us to The Futureheads’ a cappella album, Rant.
Close, four-part harmonies have always been part of the Sunderland band’s sound so an instrument-free album is perhaps less alien than it looks on paper. The immediate effect is, oddly, rather like those bootlegs of the Rock Band video games, where bedroom scientists have stripped out the multitracks and you can listen to Kurt Cobain or James Hetfield sans backing tracks, their voices left to live (or die) in isolation. Rant sounds a bit like that: the delivery, the harmonies are classically Futureheads, just someone has pulled the faders down on the guitars and the drums. As such, it’s not their Metal Machine Music by any means.
The tracklisting pulls from their own back catalogue and pop tunes both recent and vintage (Amerie, Sparks) so it’s hard not to hark back to The Housemartins’ experiments with the form or, indeed, The Flying Pickets whose brushes with chart success disguised radical roots borne of industrial unrest. That Messrs Hyde, Millard and their cohorts have also pulled on some of that northern heritage for takes on folk songs like ‘Sumer Is Icumen In’ and ‘The Old Dun Cow’ is no surprise, bringing some history into their modern experiment. More straightforward - and less showy - than the recent material, these traditional numbers have a strength hewn from simple age.
Live, with a little bit of tension and a couple of pints of mild behind you, you feel the inherent danger in a cappella might come through a bit more - hitting the notes and harmonies, nailing the timing, combined with a bit of sweat and spit that doesn’t emerge from the sterile environs of the recording studio. Rant is done well, but it plays more as a curiosity. An honest attempt at the genre or mere dilettantism? We’re certain it’s the former but we’ll leave it to the specialist folk press to decide how well they nail it.
Hyde suggests that all true Futureheads fans will ‘get’ Rant. Not all will necessarily like it, but most should understand. For everyone else, it’s perhaps more about applauding their courage and sense of self-determination, rather than being left with an album you will want to spin terribly often.