Phew. Didn’t it get weird there for a minute? Some kind of bizarre Northern cover of Hounds Of Love in the top ten? Brrr. Too strange. Because out of all of the new-new-new-new-new wave bands who made it big, The Futureheads have got to be the oddest.
A Mackem barbershop quarter with added XTC. Uh-huh. On CD:UK? Sure. I’ll get your coat. But, it did happen. Honest. We’ve seen the tapes. But it’s a fact that the whole world has seemingly chosen to ignore, transforming The ‘Heads into genuine stars, turning who-ah-oh-oh-oh-oh into the kind of festival chant that you can walk up to anybody vaguely under the age of thirty, call out and be assured of the correct response, and heaping the pressure on their sophomore release tenfold.
For while the eponymous debut was a decent enough thing, it was a little, well, tiring. They packed a lot into those first thirty minutes – hell, they packed a shitload into the first three – which meant listening to the whole thing was rather akin to being trampled by a herd of rhinoceroses migrating towards a Talking Heads convention at Whitley Bay.
However, if News And Tributes suggests anything, it’s a band with a better grasp on their excesses. There’s maybe even a sly little admission of past regrets on Cope, as the lyrics speak of a man who “ruins every time because he tries too hard..”, as cacophonous coruscating guitars cascade around them.
This time they’re not trying too hard. They’re trying just hard enough. Where previously Cope would have had every other line harmonised back to you, on News And Tributes that trick is used more subtly, more cleverly. There’s the growing realisation less can be more: last single Skip To The End is basically Decent Days And Nights rescued from a spiral of self destruction, given a shower and a shave, and ordered to ship up and fly straight before being bundled back out onto the street, while Worry About It Later is frantic and insistent in just the right amounts, distilling stop-start dynamics and a chorus peeking out from behind the branches of the Joshua Tree, into four perfect minutes of Futureheadery.
It’s the Uberheads. Cleaner, fresher and with a much smoother aftertaste. A more pensive aftertaste too; the two songs that sit at the heart of this album, Burnt and News And Tributes, are dark and sad, and almost ballads, proof of a growing songwriting maturity. They are also, lest ye forget, quite bloody marvellous.
Maturity? Subtlety? You think this new, grown-up band is no fun anymore, don’t you? In lesser hands, probably. But here, they manage to do their maturing without losing the sheer likability which saved the debut from completely drowning in a sea of ideas. For The Futureheads second time round, the news is good. The tributes should be forthcoming.