One day last fall, a guy I work with named Don came over to my desk holding a Futureheads CD. Dude, you have to listen to this. About 14 seconds after hitting the play button, I understood why.
Most articles about the Futureheads contain tired comparisons to XTC, the Jam and Gang of Four (added, no doubt, because GoFs Andy Gill produced the record). These people are missing the point. It isnt inspiration that makes this album so special; its the fact that its so inspired.
While listening to the disc, there was only one thing that kept coming into my mind: high school. When I was in high school, my friends and I were all committed punk rockers. Of course, living in Canton, Ohio, we had no idea what punk was, nor had we ever heard any punk records. Canton had the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a dead president (McKinley, the dude right before the first Roosevelt) but, alas, no punk rock. Wed seen punks in music magazines stolen from older siblings, though. So we bought some hair gel, wore old bomber jackets, stuck safety pins in everything, and started speaking in faux British accents. We were hardcore.
By the time I discovered it, punk in its precise definition was long over. The Sex Pistols had come and gone, the Ramones had released nine albums, and Sid and Nancy was about to become a movie. But to me, it was new and fresh and revolutionary and totally wonderful.
One day a fellow punk informed me that the University of Akrons radio station had just started airing college music at night. I was intrigued. I tuned in that night and sat next to the radio, ready to soak in the soundtrack of my new identity. All I heard was a wall of guitar noise and screaming. Listening to most of this stuff felt like drinking coffee something you do at first because you think its cool, figuring it will get more palatable with time.
Then I heard it: the opening bars of the Smiths How Soon Is Now? At that moment, everything in the world seemed to recede, leaving only the sound coming from the radio. By the end of the second verse, I felt something Id never experienced before: the realization that the music I was listening to, at that very moment, would change how I thought about almost everything. As I listened, I could feel the hook embedding itself deeper and deeper into my brain, changing my musical taste with every beat.
I went to the record store the next morning and nervously searched the stacks, convinced that something so incredibly awesome would never be stocked in any music store in the entire Midwest. But there it was: Meat Is Murder. I stood there for a few minutes, stunned by the fact that I now owned this record. It was now a part of me and I was a part of it. My revolution had just begun.
Meat Is Murder isnt the only album that ever gave me that feeling unearthing something so totally new, yet so totally me. Lots have. It happened last fall, when Don came over with the Futureheads eponymous debut CD. The album comes at you hard from the very first song, Le Garage, which packs three different melodies and tempo changes into a tale of love, whispered secrets, and robbery all inside of 1 minute and 44 seconds. It continues with 15 more songs in just under 37 minutes of pure sonic joy. The things that grab you most are the vocals, and the albums sense of playfulness. Complex, full-voiced, four-part harmonies wrap around lyrics that range from abstract to observational to absolute nonsense. However, when themes do emerge, youre sometimes left with the uncomfortable realization that youre tapping your toes to a song about child abduction (He Knows) or the slow march toward death (Trying Not To Think About Time). The albums harmonic capper is a high-speed cover of Kate Bushs Hounds of Love with complete, dead-on vocal arrangements.
The northern Englandbased Futureheads subscribe to the ADD school of song arrangement also favored by Scottish neighbors Franz Ferdinand, often heading in several completely different directions simultaneously within a two-and-a-half-minute track. Songs like Decent Days and Nights and The City Is Here for You To Use seem like a string of 30-second tunes knitted together into a single package. However, it isnt the songwriting, arrangements or anything concrete that makes this album so affecting; its the realization that this band, on this album, is experiencing the same kind of revolution I experienced 20-odd years ago sitting in front of that radio. You can go on about who they sound like and who their inspirations are but none of that matters. What youre hearing is an awakening. You get the feeling that the Futureheads love playing this music so much that if they couldnt, theyd explode.
Is it revolutionary music? No, at least not for the masses. But in a tiny, personal and intimate way, it is.
The Futureheads play the Henry Fonda Theater on Friday, March 11, at 8 p.m.
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