When your biggest fans are the Kings Of Leon you can take heart that maybe, just maybe, you’re doing something right. With Jared Followill describing them as “one of the best undiscovered bands in the world”, fellow Tennessee boys The Features in 2009 became the first band to sign to the Kings’ label Serpents & Snakes, having already toured with the stadium rockers.
In fact, The Features’ origins go back about 15 years in a stop-start career of changing line-ups and fall-outs with record companies, while also building up a cult following. Their first two albums were never released. Then, after bringing out the well-received Exhibit A in 2004, the band split with Universal due to what was described as “commercial pressures”.
The Features first self-released Some Kind Of Salvation in 2008. Like the Followill brothers in their early days, The Features have been more appreciated in the UK than in the USA, but their sound is very different from the Kings Of Leon, showing more of a British classic rock influence. Some Kind Of Salvation is more varied and mature than the high-energy New Wave-influenced Exhibit A, though it lacks its visceral excitement.
The album kicks off surprisingly with Whatever Gets You By, a short Kurt Weill cabaret-style intro which hints at the band’s new beginning: “So here we are, it’s like we never really left the start.” The horn-led The Drawing Board analyses an affair of the heart that is not going anywhere – “Every time I think we’ve reached the end/We just meet back here and do it again” – while the soulful Foundation’s Cracked has frontman Matt Pelham reaching for falsetto as he bemoans a rocky relationship that is “looking less like a home/And looking more like a shed”.
In a more political direction, Genetically Modified Fable is a cautionary tale of the dangers of GM food, with its disturbing mixture of Mark Bond’s spooky organ and menacing brass lines, and The Temporary Blues outlines the dehumanizing experience of working in a factory, ending in discordant breakdown: “Traded in my tennis shoes for steel toed rubber boots/ I’ve got my own uniform to wear.”
Stand-out song The Wooden Heart, taken from The Features’ 2006 self-released Contrast EP, is a blast of Southern rock with a lot of soul, including Memphis Horns-like arrangements and high-pitched vocals in its broken-heart story. The Gates Of Hell is a Beatles-influenced, dreamily melodic number about the singer’s fairground ride with his girl, ending with an aural impression of a carousel spinning out of control. Still Lost is short and forgettable, while Baby’s Hammer is a delicately quirky track with some fine finger-picking guitar work.
The unashamedly commercial single Lions, with its instantly catchy chorus “Let’s stick together/ Let’s follow our hearts” and chanted backing vocals, is a delicious slice of upbeat pop. The synth-led Concrete makes little impact but Off Track soars. All I Ask features impassioned vocals with the singalong chorus, “I won’t give up on you so don’t give up on me”, before the album ends with the folksy extra track Now You Know.
Though it would have been stronger minus two or three mediocre tracks, the songs on Some Kind Of Salvation are well crafted and Pelham’s personal lyrics are full of intelligent observations. Produced by Jacquire King, who helmed Contrast as well as Kings Of Leon and Tom Waits albums, this will see the band win new fans of the non-superstar variety.