A few years ago a band from Oxford were being touted as the next big force in UK indie (along with, well, many others who happened to have a single out that week). Anyway, this group seemed different, somewhat more than ordinary (unlike their contemporaries around whom hype and buzz was building). I must admit, at this point, I hadn’t actually heard a note of their music, but the music press and the radio told me that they had invented a new sound – which they were calling ‘mathrock’ – and it all seemed vaguely interesting, which, at the time, was a relief in amongst the other forms of UK indie like The Enemy and The Pigeon Detectives that were around, whose sound had me about as wrong-footed and inquisitive as a tea bag would be by hot water (were it capable of cognitive and emotional thought… just go with it).
Their first album, Antidotes, was decent. To my ears nothing truly earth-shattering was happening musically, but there were a few good tunes. A feeling of anti-climax was overriding undoubtedly, but I could hear something in the band that said, given an album or two, they could well do something wonderful. Maybe they’d been signed a touch early, maybe they just needed to progress a bit – after all, these days we’re a little impatient with young bands and expect them to be producing their finest work within their first three albums. The Beatles didn’t get to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s… straight away.
Need I point out what this is?
Anyway, that band was Foals (if the heading didn’t give away which band I’m reviewing here), and in 2010 they released Total Life Forever, which for the first few songs had me thinking they’d gone and cracked the code and may well have people beyond the hyperbole obsessed UK indie scene foaming at the bits, only to be let down by the rather lacklustre second half (sorry for the Andy Townshend-ism) of the album. As an album it failed because too much of its anchor had little weight, so to speak, and all of its force and quality was packed up-front (again, sorry – I stopped short at ‘in the box’ at least).
So we come to Holy Fire, their latest effort, released amid much press and some glittering reviews – Drowned in Sound gave it 9/10 – which, against my better judgement (given the way that albums can be touted as works of genius just waiting to be discovered upon their release these days, only to turn out to be about as close to the canon as I am to being a good height with a small nose), had me hoping for something marvellous. Maybe it’s this year’s The Suburbs or It’s Blitz.
As it turns out, it is not as good as either of those records. It is a good record and certainly Foals have improved upon their last outing in that it’s only the last 3 songs that let it down now, but it is just that: a good record, not a great one. Holy Fire starts out with soundtrack-ready opener, ‘The Prelude’, which would not be out of place in a fight scene in a Guy Ritchie movie (this, contrary to what some may think, is no bad thing – ‘Fucking in the Bushes’ is one of the best tracks Oasis ever put their name to). From there on in it pulls you in a few directions, be it stadium-worthy sprawl (second track ‘Bad Habit’), party-worthy dance rock (lead single ‘My Number’ and ‘Inhaler’) or masterful guitar work a la The Durutti Column (‘Late Night’).
If Yannis Philippakis’s voice could carry the last three songs (‘Providence’, ‘Stepson’ and ‘Moon’) a touch more and make up for the space that’s clearly intentionally been left, I would maybe be saying that this is as good a record as anything I can envisage being released this year. For me Foals don’t really do space-filled ballads nearly as well as they do up-tempo pop, and while I don’t believe that any artist should steer clear of any genre or form they wish to go for, in the context of an album, they could maybe place the two or three lower points in-between their stronger, more groove-led tracks. This album doesn’t do that and, as such, when listened to as a whole piece, has a slightly anti-climactic feel to it.
Lead single ‘My Number’
That said, Holy Fire is a very good third effort. Foals have continually improved up until now and can certainly be proud of their latest effort. I’d hope it’s not the best album released this year, but I can certainly say that it’s a good record that will be appearing on those end of year lists that tell you what you should’ve listened to over the past year. If Foals continue improving at this rate I can see no reason why they won’t be able to make something which can truly be considered among the pantheon of this decade’s greatest records.