After producing a stellar, six-figure shifting debut album and becoming one of the UK’s biggest rock bands, you might have thought that Funeral For A Friend would abide by the old adage that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Instead, the Welsh upstarts have gone and rung the changes for their follow-up. Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation has been replaced by the altogether curter Hours, while the wordy and often witty song titles (She Drove Me To Daytime Television being my personal favourite) have been similarly rejected in favour of the more conventional Hospitality, Drive, Monsters and History.
Musically also, Hours marks F4AF’s fully-blown emigration into melodic rock territory. The hardcore screams are nearly extinct (The End Of Nothing being an honourable exception), while the occasional foray of old into metal territory has also had its visa nullified.
None of which would matter too much if it weren’t for the fact that Hours simply isn’t anywhere near as good as Casually Dressed. It’s almost as if the band was trying too hard instead of writing instinctively. As a result, some of the songs are overly pristine, overly sanitised and lacking in the exuberant panache of youth that the likes of Juneau and Bullet Theory exhibited.
Of course, there is plenty of decent stuff on here. Opener All The Rage jumps in with two feet through thumping drums, loud, meaty guitars and Davies’ vocals, whose emotive qualities add extra credence to lines such as: “I’m sick and I’m tired of always being the good guy.”
Roses For The Dead possesses some cool, wandering guitar lines that transform into straight, pounding guitar riffs later on, while the contrast of restrained vocals with jagged, heavy guitars is continued during Hospitality.
Meanwhile, Recovery and The End Of Nothing are where things really come together with clever, stop-start parts in the former and all-out aggression in the latter which leaves you wishing they’d done more of this ilk, not because “metal is good and anything else is wimpy” but because F4AF are just so good at it.
Which brings us to the nub of F4AF’s problem on Hours – they just don’t play to their strengths. Davies’ vocals were a highlight of Casually Dressed but here, without the contrast of screaming and growling, they’re often left high, dry and one-dimensional.
Similarly, we know they can do reflective. Your Revolution Is A Joke showed us that. Beautifully, in fact. However, do we really need three “lighter” songs out of 11, particularly when they are as middle-of-the-road and spineless as Drive and History?
Ironically, given that it has caused the most discussion amongst the masses for its use of a drum machine and synth, it is the third “slowie” – Sonny – that comes up trumps. It’s a bit too sweet to be Nine Inch Nails but the moody keyboard chords and guitar touches, plus the way the instrumentation fills out after a couple of minutes, all conspire to give it a darkly contemplative air.
Hours is a mixed bag then, one that reminds us of the heady heights that this lot are capable of climbing to, but that also shows a few cracks under the pressure of being your major record label’s new priority act. It’s certainly not so bad that it’s going to drive me to daytime television but with bands like Fightstar on the prowl they’ll have to watch themselves lest they get overtaken in the teenage rock kid’s affections.