Feeder’s career has followed a trajectory that fans of Idlewild or perhaps Jimmy Eat World would recognise – cult popularity building up to a radio hit and a never-quite-grasped chance at mainstream success, followed by a series of subsequent albums receiving steadily diminishing sales and attention. The previous effort, Renegades, was their first long-player to miss the Top 10 since their debut in 1997.
That album, deriving as it did from a band-within-a-band touring project designed to allow the two remaining members to let off some rock steam, felt like an escape, a wistful look back to their roots. Generation Freakshow, in comparison, sounds like a retreat, serenading the radio playlist compilers at every possible opportunity. Both opening tracks feature enormous semi-soft/semi-hard rock choruses, Borders in particular being the closest a diffident and charming Welshman will ever get to Bon Jovi.
But there are so many buts. Every track comes with one. In All Honesty has a certain swish to it, a little pace and vivacity that will slap smiles on the faces of crowds, and yet the “do-do-do-doo” hook is an obvious enough rehash of minor hit Just A Day that it significantly diminishes the sparkle and spontaneity. Quiet has a pretty little secret garden of a melody waiting to be discovered, but simply goes on far too long.
More problems arise with Grant Nicholas’ somewhat hackneyed way with words. When the tracks race along at a decent pace, no-one cares how silly your rhymes are (cast your mind back to “drink cider from a lemon” for proof), but when the speed drops, you need a more convincing lyric than “I’m heading back to Idaho, all the way to USA” to make a lasting impression. The noble exception is Hey Johnny, a lament to late drummer Jon Lee which can hardly fail to be affecting (unless it isn’t about him, in which case it’s bloody dishonest). But then there is nothing so eloquent as grief.
The high point comes with the title track, crashing in with a swaggering Placebo groove before adding layers of buzzing guitars that recall the grunge stylings of the debut. The riff that runs through the verse reveals a song created by a band rocking out and actually having fun together, and not just another lump of mid-paced acoustic troubadory beefed up in the studio. In other words, it’s one of the few songs Gary Barlow could never have written. It might be cursed by yet another lyrical clanger – “violent society, why did you lie to me?” – but the tune puts it squarely in the “who cares?” category.
There are unremittingly poor tracks, too – Tiny Minds plods like Stereophonics at their Mr Writer era worst, tiresome from the very first bar, and after the fine and frisky pairing of In All Honesty and Headstrong, the two closing tracks feel like driving in a 30mph limit just after exiting the motorway. It’s a sad end to an album that could have built on the promise of the last, and instead dilutes it in an almost certainly vain pitch for chart success.