“5-4-3-2-1 let’s go!” yelp Mackam quartet The Futureheads in the first line of their fourth album The Chaos. It’s an opening gambit that’s as confrontational as it is self-assured but, unlike many of their ilk, they’ve got reason to be so sure of themselves.
Seven years after their first release, they’ve gone from being That Band Who Did The Kate Bush Cover to a genre of their very own, with a thousand identikit wannabes, and The Chaos is the cherry on top of their spiky, raucous, post punk cake.
Still going it alone, after being dropped by former label 679 Recordings after the 2006 release of their second album News And Tributes, this is the second long player they’ve released on their own label, Nul Records. If ever there was a band who served as an advert for the artistic benefit of being your own boss, it’s The Futureheads. Whereas their 679 effort offered little in the way of memorable songs, its follow-up, and this new album, offer wall to wall slabs of chant-along, oddball guitar pop.
There are moments of classic, paint-by-numbers Futureheads courtesy of Jupiter, with overblown four-part, Queen-esque harmonies and the radio-friendly lead single Heartbeat Song which, for fans of singer Barry Hyde’s thick Sunderland accent, contains the aurally pleasing line “I can hear the rhythm and the tone”, or ‘rhythm and the torrrrrn’, as he packs in lyrics with the flexibility and speed of James Dean Bradfield. It’s more aggressive than their earlier stuff – think The Beginning Of The Twist rather than Decent Days and Nights – but fans from both eras will be happy.
The surprise of the album comes in the shape of Sun Goes Down. A White Wedding-esque intro turns into their darkest song to date. It’s murky, creepy and apocalyptic, and sees them temporarily abandon their XTC inspired thrusts and jerks. After a minute or so they return to more recognisable territory, further adding to the chaos they’ve threatened across the six previous tracks.
Coming a close second in the unexpected song contest is I Can Do That, which is smattered with layers of twiddly production, and edges towards a stadium rock sound. It’s like they’re being backed by Kings Of Leon, but it still maintains the childlike innocence that has characterised their songbook to date. The words are straightforward – “Your heart beats some, it’s good but it’s not the one, but I still want to sing with you” – and with any other band it might become grating by this stage of their career, but with their simplicity it’s still just about charming.
There are a few fillers – The Baron and The Connector are particularly forgettable – but on the whole it’s their most solid album to date. The Chaos successfully marries their love of off-kilter indie-punk (they are, afterall, the band whose early staple was a cover of Television Personalities‘ A Picture Of Dorian Gray) with power tunes that will pay the studio bills. Their quality control switch is firmly switched on. “The first 5,000 miles are the hardest steps to take, your autopilot kicks in for journey’s sake,” sings Hyde. And that might well be true, for with The Chaos it feels as though they’ve finally found their feet.