God help us, should Future of the Left ever decide it’s time to settle down, mellow out and pack their rancor away in the coat closet. If it’s up to frontman Andy Falkous, and it’s pretty obvious that it is, that won’t happen until the band reaches its anticlimactic end or the subjects of his ire finally return to seek revenge for being made the butt of venomous (and hilarious) punk rock satire. The band thrives on irreverence and confrontation, thrives on annoyance and makes provocation into a highly satisfying and viable form of entertainment. It’s a delicate balance; a tilt in one direction might make their songs unnecessarily cruel, a tip in the other direction might find them turning into indie rock’s answer to Sasha Baron Cohen.
Nothing’s off balance on third album The Plot Against Common Sense, thankfully, and by all indications the band has no plans to give up the snide punk curmudgeon act. The man on the cover watching the world burn is holding hands with a penguin. There’s a song titled “Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop.” And first track “Sheena Is A T-Shirt Salesman,” a twisting, careening, cynical tornado of a melodic punk smasher, settles any doubts that the band couldn’t ratchet up the intensity any further following 2009’s Travels With Myself and Another.
The notable difference between The Plot Against Common Sense and its predecessors is how wide the rift is between the band’s catchier material and that which carries the deepest level of sludge. After “Sheena”‘s rocket launch, the band swaps out hooks for robotic stomp and squealing keyboards on “Failed Olympic Bid.” There’s a menacing groove to “Beneath the Waves an Ocean,” a churner that begins like a bad joke (“Three men walk into a café…“), and ends with a stunningly barked chorus of “No way you’ll ever find peace/ you’ll ever find peace with the name they gave you.” “City of Exploded Children” is Shellac style mathcore with added guitar harmonies, and “Goals In Slow Motion” is the infectious hit single that a band like FOTL never seemed to care much about perfecting. But here we are, and it’s glorious.
In one sense, Falkous’ rants have gotten more ridiculous on Common Sense — his railing against cynical showbiz clichés in “Robocop 4” and list of apocalyptic pop culture grievances on “Notes on Achieving Orbit” are as absurd as ever, and that’s definitely a blessing. Yet throughout much of the album, “Orbit” included, the band’s songwriting has achieved a new level of sophistication, the absence of which previously was generally made up for with brute force. With 15 songs and a longer running time than their last two, Common Sense might have benefited from a nip or a tuck, but attempts at perfection are beside the point. A middle finger harmonized with some of the best melodies of the band’s career will do just nicely.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.