Fightstar - They Liked You Better When You Were Dead
Record Label: Deep Elm
Release Date: April 12, 2006 (US)
I remember back in 2005 when I downloaded the extended North American version of "They Liked You Better When You Were Dead" by Fightstar. I can also recall not really knowing what to expect. This came after casually deciding to check it out based on the video of “Palahniuk's Laughter" that I'd seen on Kerrang! TV and taken a strong and surprising liking to.
Of course, I knew (like everybody else) that it was the "kid from Busted" and his supposedly new and "real" rock outfit. But I had made a very conscious decision from the start to be open minded and only judge what I was about to hear solely on the merit of the music itself.
I found myself utterly taken back by the remaining quality of the nine-track EP. Why the surprise I asked myself? Maybe it was because "Charlie from Busted" surely couldn't be responsible for any genuinely good music? Maybe though, it was because this was actually just a group of talented young musicians who together had created a piece of work that I found myself in total conjunction with? It was probably a combination of the two if truth be told. Either way, Simpson probably knew deep down from the very beginning that he may never shake off the inevitable jibes about his pop past. But from the moment the EP came to its gigantic closure with "Mono", he had earned my respect.
The record blossoms with its dark approach and is often laced with unpredictable flourishes of noise. There are plenty of stop-start and quiet-loud dynamics that uncover the real beauty of Fightstar's style; the seemingly effortless unification of the fierce and the tender.
The real backbone of the band though, is the vocal complexity of both Simpson and Alex Westaway. Both have contrasting styles that combine to add perfect balance to their arrangements. The duo’s guitar patterns work off each others to create intricate soundscapes and passages of crushing power. The rhythm sections are carried by the pounding drums of Omar Abidi and fluid bass lines of Dan Haigh.
"Palahniuk's Laughter" and “Until Then” are the urgent and engaging anthems, mixing full-throttle riffs and atmospheric breakdowns with great vocal delivery. “Amethyst” blends spacey and haunting guitar effects with the soft tone of Westaway’s vocals before leading into a fully distorted chorus and breakdown. The acoustically led “Cross Out The Stars” strolls along with its tender verses and choruses before finishing in fine style with ethereal guitar melodies.
Opener “Paint Your Target” and penultimate track, “Hazy Eyes”, provide the straight up rock formula of souring melody and punch while the best is perhaps saved till last, with the momentous “Mono”. Indeed, named in honour of the Japanese post-rock band of the same name, it leads the listener into a false sense of security with its beautiful and swirling guitar feedback. Then, the building tension erupts into a huge and powerful finale, pummelling the listener brutally with its raw emotional delivery.
Fightstar’s influences are laid bare all over the record. The grungy production hints at Nirvana, while the spacey atmospherics often point towards Radiohead. Then you have other moments of the pure post-hardcore of Thrice, but it’s all crucially delivered with Fightstar’s stamp of honesty.
People may always have a problem with Simpsons past and never give Fightstar’s music a chance. Others will oblige and simply not like what they hear, which is perfectly acceptable. But it’s the former’s ignorance that will ultimately lead to people missing out. I for one am glad I approached the band like any other, with an open mind, and ended up discovering a fantastic record.
Very nice review, and not just because of the overall score. You've really gone to the effort of saying something about each of the songs and your reasons from liking or disliking them.
I've got the US version, which has nine tracks, which is awesome.
Great review, Fightstar has given more than enough proof that they're a great band. I hate busted but after hearing these guys the first time, I completely changed my opinion on Charlie Simpson, he is in fact a great musician as the rest of this band is.