The Futureheads: Rant

[30 April 2012]

By Steven Spoerl

An a cappella offering that meets expectations.

Rant is easily the most difficult record in the Futureheads’ already impressive discography. They’ve been one of a few revival-style bands to emerge from the past decade relatively unscathed due to consistent quality. They never really completely re-invented themselves, though, which is an easy trap to fall into while staying in a genre that limited. Everything about that changes on Rant, which may be the boldest record to come out of 2012. It’s an audacious, ambitious, and impressive record that contains covers of traditional folk songs, the Black Eyed Peas, Kelis, Richard Thompson, and Sparks, all presented as faithful a cappella. The fact that everything works here as brilliantly as it does goes beyond the realms of merely just being impressive and closer towards something transcendent. Rant is as unified of a record that the Futureheads have ever made and not just because of their rigorous commitment to the a cappella style throughout but because this collection of songs works together so well.

Now, admittedly, Rant does have its drawbacks along with its charms and that point is presented up front with the opening track, “Meantime”, which on first listen will give the listener the answer of whether they think the novelty trip is worth it. With the popularity of the television show Glee still at a commercial peak, Rant may cause an indirect avoidance in its listening numbers for that shows many detractors. Which is no fault of the Futureheads themselves and is quite unfortunate as the level of skill on display here is far more superior, and the arrangements far more inventive, than they are on Glee. This becomes apparent when they turn the Black Eyed Peas’ “Meet Me Halfway” into something approaching a masterpiece on Rant‘s second track, which proves to be its strongest. “Meet Me Halfway” is re-worked into a minor atmospheric piece that feels genuinely dark and suspenseful. It’s a fleeting moment that makes a very strong impression.

“Robot” doesn’t fare quite as well, though it is a really fun take on one of the Futureheads’ most memorable songs and could probably serve as the best indicator of the time and preparation that the Futureheads took to make Rant. Their care in craft is especially obvious here with vocal layer upon vocal layer, stacked as high as possible. While its impressive it’s not quite as engaging as the original. Their cover of Richard Thompson’s “Beeswing” amends that lack of interest quickly and offers another easy highlight. At this point in Rant, its potential as a serious and enjoyable album becomes crystal clear. Invention and accessibility have an evident marriage and the Futureheads make it as easy to admire as it is to digest.

While the second half of Rant isn’t quite as strong as the first, its still enjoyable enough to the point that its difficult to turn off or turn away from, which also points towards Rant being the rare album that works both as an album for casual listening and one that holds up and rewards attention when put under heavy scrutiny. Moments like the subtle ambient echo drone during the start of their cover of Sparks’ “The Number One Song in Heaven” go unnoticed while dabbling in the former but becomes a masterful flourish while investing enough time to pursue the latter. “The Number One Song in Heaven” also stands out as one of Rant‘s strongest moments, confirming that the most fascinating songs and effective re-workings on Rant are the covers, a point punctuated by their cover of Kelis’ “Acapella”, which acts as Rant‘s mission statement with the chorus of “My whole life was a cappella”.

Rant comes to a satisfying close with “Main Ray” and again demonstrates the Futureheads’ enviable arranging and vocal skills. It’s a strong moment on a surprisingly strong album and when it closes, it leaves a lasting impression. Now, while Rant isn’t by any means the strongest album to have come out of 2012, it’s one of the most fascinating and possibly most important. Is it novelty? Undeniably. However, it’s full of good intentions and is surprisingly fearless. It also focuses on pure and honest organic musicianship, the kind that can’t be replicated with a computer blip or auto-tune. With Rant the Futureheads could’ve fallen flat on their face. Instead, they hit the ground running and deliver a memorable album that stands out as one of their best, and that more than deserves the round of applause that Rant earns for its last moment.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/157414-the-futureheads-rant/