The Futureheads - The Chaos
Record Label: Dovecote
Release Date: June 1, 2010
By the middle years of "the aughts," the buzz surrounding New Wave and post-punk revivalist bands was reaching a fever pitch. The span of 2004 to 2005 saw exciting debuts from bands like Bloc Party, whose Silent Alarm offered a modern take on old-school punks like Wire, and The Killers, who were exploring the smoother, glitzier sounds of Duran Duran with Hot Fuss. Somewhere in the middle, the landmark Franz Ferdinand pulled from the best of both of those worlds. The concurrent self-titled debut from The Futureheads leaned a little in Bloc Party's angular direction, and though it never received the mainstream popularity (at least in the U.S.) of its peers, it garnered considerable critical praise.
The problem that all these bands faced, of course, was exactly how to go about crafting a proper follow-up. Urgency is one of those things that's just harder to capture the second time around, and this is especially the case when your trying to match an album as exaggeratedly frenzied as The Futureheads. So as expected, the Heads subsequent releases didn't bottle the same energy and didn't seem to whizz by in a breathless blur. But so what if This Is Not the World has more in common with the Kaiser Chiefs' caffeinated Britrock than it does their jagged Gang of Four-resuscitating debut? Hipness and buzz are fickle things, and while The Futureheads' days as darlings may be in the past, they've proven themselves as solid songwriters all along, and they reinforce it yet again with The Chaos.
As a title, The Chaos is a bit of a misnomer, as it finds the band at their most tightly controlled and also their most radio-ready. The title track opens the album, and perhaps fittingly, it's probably the most unfocused of its songs. It brings the tempo, but its four-minute expanse offers room for its wandering guitar lines, maybe granting some credence to the argument that The Futureheads are at their best when they're at their most economical. However, they quickly hit their stride with the powerpop gems "Struck Dumb" and "Heartbeat Song", which contain some of the most direct hooks the Sunderland quartet have written, succeeding more with melodic turns than pure adrenaline.
If there are chinks in the record's armor, they are revealed in its middle section, where the band's relentless effervescence causes the songs to bleed together, and while they're still infectious, the hooks they deliver just aren't quite as sharp. When The Futureheads leave their comfort zone for darkpop-tinged territory on "Sun Goes Down", it's a very welcome change-up, the sort of thing they'd do well to explore further down the road. Similarly, the single-worthy "Dart at the Map" showcases the band triumphing with a less insistent and more deliberate approach.
Listening to these primarily clean, polished tunes, it's easy to wonder how they might have benefited from the vibrant '60s harmonies and doowop-style backing vocals from their early days, hallmarks that added so much character to their otherwise frenetic self-titled disc. Such embellishments might have been even more effective with these pointed pop songs. Still, it's hard to complain about an album that balances fun with maturity as well as The Chaos. Unbridled youthful vigor may now be but a distant speck in The Futureheads' rearview, but the joy of pop music still rings through in their every note.