It’s easy to forget the trajectory of stardom this Sunderland four-piece were on before they dropped 2006’s esoteric News and Tributes: the band’s second album, and a befuddling listen if you’d been reared on the student disco fodder of their eponymous 2004 debut. Singer Barry Hyde summed it up at the time: “It was almost like we made our fifth album second, like we jumped ahead of ourselves.” Nevertheless, fans smiled and thought: “Can’t wait to hear album number six.”
See, The Futureheads always had more nous, more range, more brains than their indie punk peers. Remember that this is a band whose early gigs saw them dressed as robots, a la Devo, and miming along to their songs on a tour of German squats like a new-wave boyband.
While 2008’s This Is Not the World (their first for own Nul label after leaving 679) tried gallantly to marry their passion for art-school weird and rent-paying big tunes, there was always the hope amongst their fanbase that the band might give up on their commercial dreams, instead ploughing the oddness that always set them apart from the pack.
Album number four delivers on that hope. The Baron pairs bee swarm-style Thurston Moore guitars with the innovative studio smarts of Queen at their most thrillingly pompous, while, XTC-indebted hooks and crooks aside, Jupiter is a telling reminder that there are few better bands at structuring four-part harmonies than them. Then there’s Sun Goes Down, the group’s most unnerving moment to date, Hyde’s guitar prowling within a maze of fug and sleaze. “The sun goes down,” he gasps, “and the double life begins. It’s a one way ticket to the city of sin.” It’s less Decent Days and Nights, more Decent Nights and Tormented Early Mornings.
With fitting perverseness the album might even reward them with their most legitimate pop hit to date. Lead single Heartbeat Song would have glistened even within the pop-heavy tracklisting of their first album. One can only hope its inevitable mainstream success will fund Britain’s most interesting guitar band’s ongoing expedition of weirdness.