Set Mclusky aside. Future of the Left is an excellent, innovative band. And with their sophomore disc, they outshine their strong debut in nearly every way, building energy and blunt-force inertia as they go.
Merely the existence of Future of the Left is cause for celebration. The dissolution of Mclusky, one of the great young rock bands going back in 2004, wasn't only a big hit to the music world, but seemed like a crushing blow to the players. To read the liner notes in Mcluskyism, the band's posthumous greatest hits/rarities collection, is to feel singer Andy Falkous's bitterness in the wake of the break-up. In his words, the band "imploded in a powder-puff of unfettered realism and cant."
But all was not lost. Falkous took Mclusky drummer Jack Egglestone, added bassist Kelson Louis Matthias and formed Future of the Left. Their debut, Curses, was a shot in the arm both for the band and the listener, full of Falkous's piss and vinegar and buzzing, heavy snarling rock songs. But to hear the band on their recent live album, Last Night I Saved Her from Vampires, shows the band tightening up those songs, and ratcheting up the teeth-gritting tension. Make no mistake, Mclusky is very much behind Falkous and Egglestone, and Future of the Left is an excellent, innovative band. And their sophomore disc, Travels with Myself and Another, isn't just further proof of that. It outshines the debut in nearly every way, and shows the band building energy and blunt-force inertia as they go.
"Arming Eritrea" announces the album's frenetic intentions right off the bat. It's a no-holds-barred, grimy bit of speed rock that manages to be both contrarian and anthemic at the same time. "I'm an adult", Falkous shouts amid shreds of bass-heavy guitar, going against the seeming bratty nature of his cockney bleat. After all, his songs are always more clever and thoughtful than they are infantile, even if they don't always avoid low-brow humor. Songs like "I Am Civil Service" have Falkous grinning through his growl as he sings, "If I eat what I fuck and I fuck what I eat, am I worthy?" And in the tweaker sex jam "You Need Satan More than He Needs You", Falkous wonders, "What kind of orgy leaves a sense of deeper love?"
And sure, moments like this on the record are darkly funny, but they aren't as childish as they seem. Like the band's raw sound, Falkous's songs push at baser instincts -- the hunger and lust and anger he figures is hidden under all our manners and starched collars. "Chin Music" is a recount of a bar fight, in all its depraved chaos, but Falkous's narrator spends the song lamely justifying his poor behavior, deciding eventually that "I knew I couldn't stop it", and so he fought. For no real reason whatsoever.
But whether or not you buy the treatises on human nature found in Travels with Myself and Another, Future of the Left are clever enough to know that their snarky lyrics go only as far as the rock they lay them on. And while the new album may not have the left-field angular tangents that we've seen from these guys before, it achieves a surprising consistency as it walks the line between the melodic and shattered. "The House the Hope Built" drags a "London Calling" romp through the boot-printed bathroom floors of seedy pubs. "Throwing Bricks at Trains" dirties up a pretty danceable riff into something greasy and dense with angry fuzz. Later in the album, songs like "That Damned Fly" veer away from the hyper-bass sound Falkous has always lived on, and the cleaner rock sound doesn't lose any of their unwieldy fire. And even though the spoken-word first half of closer "Lapsed Catholics" is a little trying, the song ends in a rafter-shaking rock blast, complete with towering horns to brighten up the band's cacophonic world, even as Falkous decides, almost bored by the end, that "lapsed Catholics are the worst".
Curses surely showed that Falkous and company still had plenty left in the tank. But with the great live document Last Night I Saved Her from Vampires, and now with the razor-sharp, endlessly listenable, and wildly rocking Travels with Myself and Another, Future of the Left have put their past to rest. Perhaps their existence makes the memory of Mclusky a little less bitter. But that's just an added bonus to the really good news: That future the band mentions in their name -- it's looking awfully bright. Well, maybe not "bright" in the hands of these guys, but exciting for sure. And probably loud.