In 2004, Barry Hyde bluntly sang, “you eat shit ’cause you’re stupid and shallow“; two years later, that has evolved into “please remember to let me down gently.” It would be easy to call this new side of The Futureheads “tameness,” but this is merely a natural progression, boyish exuberance traded in for soberness and sincerity. Any band formed when all of its members are teenagers is bound to have undergone some sort of maturation, both in melody and in lyrical themes by the time year six rolls around. Considering The Futureheads’ debut was released only two years ago, the transformation appears to be quite rapid, going from jerky, abrasive punk songs to smart, taut new wave pop songs in just one move (two if you count the interim Area EP). Fundamentally, the idea is the same. These are still four young British gents creating a complex matrix of instrumental interplay and vocal harmonies. However, with a bare minimum of stylistic manipulation, The Futureheads have created something seemingly very different on News and Tributes.
Songs don’t necessarily travel at the speed of light anymore; they take a leisurely stroll when they need to. Time signatures are rarely expanded beyond the standard 4/4. And the band no longer chokes each second of music with weighty layers of jagged guitars or call-and-response vocal shouts. Those elements haven’t been removed, of course, they’ve just been spaced out evenly, allowed room to breathe and to make more of an impact upon the material. When the band does allow the punk guitars to shred through the spacious silences, as in “Yes/No” or “Return of the Berserker,” it’s recognizable, but still handled with an extra care and restraint than on “Decent Days and Nights” or “First Day.”
In fact, “Yes/No” not only maintains The Futureheads’ trademark level of energy, it also achieves a new level of enormousness, mostly in the drums, a noticeable difference in production on the part of Ben Hillier. The whole opening hat trick is quite impressive, “Cope” with its angular riffs and cries of “How dare you!“, and “Fallout,” finding a soulful, relaxed side of the band emerging between the tightly wound guitar chugs. The single, “Skip to the End,” however, seems a peculiar song, almost too spacious for an A-side, yet featuring some of the cleverest lyrics on the album.
With a bassy E string and a more melodic approach, “Burnt” stands out as a particularly stirring example of how the band has grown. Still edgy enough to sound like The Futureheads, yet slowed down and even somewhat pretty, it’s the album’s peak, or at least one of them. By the time “The Return of the Berserker” rolls around, the manic guitar clang and drum crashes seem oddly out of place next to a tender pop song like “Back to the Sea.”
On “Worry About It Later,” that gigantic production teased in the first track returns, indicating the band’s willingness to accept that they’re no longer a punky little indie band anymore, but rather a true rock band. And by finishing the album of with a ballad (which explodes into a rocker, of course) it’s solidified. If that’s not evidence enough, there is one more item I’d like to direct you toward—Dave Grohl. That he’s their new biggest fan should erase any doubt.
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.