Long gone are the days when record labels would bow to their artistes’ every whim. At a time when, more than ever, music=sales=money, artistic egos are worth zilch, and concept albums are worth even less. So who on earth agreed to let The Futureheads release an a cappella album?
An idea that sprang from a Radio 1 Live Lounge session, which saw them attempt, with schoolboy clever dick humour, an instrument-free version of Kelis‘s Acapella, was somehow allowed to flourish into an entire album. A silly, novelty album that no one’s going to listen to, right? Not quite.
As protagonists of the post-new wave revival of the early noughties, they’re best known for their sharp, angular guitars and punkish chant-along choruses, but one of the best things about The Futureheads is their harmonies. One of their best known hits, their take on Kate Bush‘s Hounds Of Love, made a real meal of Bush’s subtle, ghostly “oooh ooohs”, replacing them with clunky, barked “oh oh ohs” – it was great and made the song completely their own. So it makes sense to give it a go on a bigger scale.
Continuing the theme, Rant includes some unexpected covers. Meet Me Halfway by The Black Eyed Peas is a slow, desperate plea which sees singer Barry Hyde cry “I want you so badly it’s my biggest wish” far more convincingly than Fergie. Richard Thompson‘s Beeswing is given one of the most interesting rearrangements of the album; a finger-snapping sea-shanty that’s perfectly dissected.
Sparks‘ The Number One Song In Heaven is a little less inspiring, but the song that started it all, Acapella, would make a convincing original – you’d be forgiven for thinking Kelis had pinched it from them. But the really interesting part comes with the “experimental” songs – the takes that must’ve really taken some convincing with their record label. The 13th Century folk song, Sumer Is Icumen In, far from being Wicker Man creepy, is anchored with a powerful, uplifting baritone that must sound remarkably similar to how it was first sung out on the fields in late Spring. Likewise, The Keeper revels in its traditional call-and-response and heavy Mackem dialect. And one of Rant’s highlights comes in the shape of the hilarious The Old Dun Cow. Still in traditional folk territory, it’s a drinking song about getting “blue blind drunk” as the pub burns down around you.
It’s not all covers though, and a select few tracks from the band’s own back catalogue are given an a capella make under. Man Ray, Robot and Meantime are interesting for a quick listen but after a minute or so you’re left pining for the crunching guitars. The punk spirit’s not entirely lost though, and there are some great moments, particularly in the latter, when Hyde spits out the vocals with a snarling aggression that he doesn’t even manage on their regular records. One of the most surprising reworkings is Heartbeat Song, lifted from 2010’s The Chaos, which is almost unrecognisable, and one of their more forgettable songs is turned into a tender, quite lovely track.
Those who are gunning to dismiss Rant as a novelty record will, at first glance, have plenty of ammunition; the covers, the boring re-workings of their own songs, and the fact that at times it sounds part barbershop quartet and part football crowd. But it’s far from self-indulgent; their song choices and clever arrangements make Rant a real, if unexpected, delight.