This review was submitted by Philip Lickley. If you would like to contribute to All-Noise send your music based writings to [email protected]
The Futureheads – Rant
After enjoying the lead single from their third album, ‘Beginning of the Twist’, I’ve followed Sunderland band The Futureheads for their past two albums – so it was a surprise for me this week at my local record store: surprise that they have a fifth album out (Rant); surprise that, from the tracklisting, it includes covers of two tracks I really like; surprise as it’s the first album I’ve bought that comes with a free beer mat; and surprise that the album is entirely a capella.
Yes, aside from a brief appearance by a tambourine, there is no instrumentation on this album, all tracks instead being delivered by the power of the band’s harmonic voices.
Unaware of this twist on the record, it does come as a treat for me as I do enjoy it when artists create alternative versions of popular records: I’m thinking of the Baseballs, Richard Cheese and others in the genre, as it can be refreshing to hear modern pop songs re-rendered in different, older musical styles.
The album is a mixture of re-arranged covers, adaptations of previous Futureheads tracks and traditional songs.
Though I’m not familiar with their first and second albums, Rant begins with an a capella version of first album track ‘Meantime’, their voices forming a great multi-layered vocal-only song. Though I have no comparison to base it on it’s certainly an enjoyable, listenable track.
The second song on the album is the highlight for me, a cover of the Black Eyed Peas ‘Meet Me Halfway’, one of my favourite songs by this band now stripped of all of Will.i.am’s production and, indeed, rapping as only Fergie’s vocals on the song get the a capella treatment. Though it’s a missed opportunity to not transfer over the raps, or at least a version of them, the song really works in a capella and becomes even more haunting than the original and allows the lyrics to stand up away from the heavy production values of the Peas original. A great cover but perhaps drags on a little too long in its conclusion.
An a capella re-imagining of first album song ‘Robot’ follows and the swapping of vocal duties from backing to singing and the competing vocals work really well and never conflict. ‘Robot’ is the track that most makes me want to hear the original.
A cover of Richard Thompson’s 1994 song ‘Beeswing’ appears even more stripped back than the other tracks, if that’s possible, with little in the way of backing music but throws in a hand-made drum beat to compensate alongside a little bit of tambourine to add variety to the established a capella formula. With a great Barbershop section this is one of the more complete of the songs on the album.
From their second album ‘Thursday’ features impressive vocal recreations of the different layers of the track but this isn’t the most interesting to listen to on the track, but Medieval round ‘Summer Is Icumen in’ is another twist on the album’s style.
‘The Keeper’, the second traditional song in a row, is fun to listen to and their cover of Sparks classic ‘No. 1 Song In Heaven’, which comes next, goes from the airy, heaven-like vocals of the opening to the more fast-paced synth-sections that come later in the track, now re-created very well vocally with some clever use of the human voice to recreate Sparks’ traditional musical style.
‘The Old Dun Cow’ is the third traditional track, this time a pub-chant complete with lots of references to drinking and a few modern names thrown in for good measure, and is one of the highlights of the album thanks to the funny lyrics and imagery.
At track ten if there ever was a song destined to be included on such an album it would be a cover of Kelis’ recent ‘Acapella’, now stripped of David Guetta’s production which allows the lyrics to breathe and make sense. A multi-layered, great adaptation of the modern song.
The album then comes to a conclusion with an a capella version of ‘Man Ray’ which is a pleasing end to the album before we also enjoy a bonus track of ‘Hanging Johnny’ which is another witty track though I can’t help feeling it would have been more rewarding to hear a bonus a capella version of one of their third or fourth album songs.
Rant by The Futureheads is a difficult album to rate as to fully enjoy it requires a few things, from familiarity with their first two albums or the songs they are covering; to an enjoyment of a capella versions of songs; to the love of hearing familiar songs re-imagined. Coming in at a relatively compact thirty-four minutes, the album goes by spritely and doesn’t drag, Rant is certainly a one-trick pony, but a good one.
I would have enjoyed it a little more with some more songs from their previous two albums but as a concept album and something a little different it succeeds and the band’s harmonies and vocals work throughout the piece and sound like they’ve been doing this sort of style for years.
If you’re unsure about the album I’d recommend downloading or Spotify-ing ‘Meet Me Halfway’ and ‘Acapella’ and, if you like what you hear, then get the rest of the album.