Thursday, July 13, 2017

McQ's #59 Album Of 2015 - WHAT WENT DOWN - Foals

Foals is a talented band: An at-times inspired live act with serious chops, a knock-out rhythm section,  and a unique guitar sound built on the heavy use of harmonic tones; able anthemists capable of nailing classic Brit-rock crescendos; gifted sonic engineers who can claim some of the best produced songs of the decade (see Spanish Sahara from Total Life Forever or Late Night from Holy Fire) in their discography.

But they've also always flirted with blandness - average on their best day lyricists working fairly conventional catharthis-rock/arena-rock tropes lead by a brooding, aloof frontman with an occassionally effective but for the most part limited, less-effette Robert Smith voice - and unfortunately on their fourth time at bat, as the god-awful cover to their 2015 album What Went Down implies, blandness often wins the day.

That's not to say What Went Down is all bad.  There is some fantastic stuff here.

The title track finds the band returning to the metal-tinged direction first pursued on Holy Fire's Inhaler to promising effect, Snake Oil is a probably even better badass nut puncher, London Thunder closes in on some of that Spanish Sahara/Late Night magic, and Mountains At My Gate proves the band is still capable, when firing on all cylinders, to deliver a near perfect track.

But for the rest of the album the pickings are limited.  Albatross, though it sports the album's worst lyrics, is a fairly fun charger, but it reminds me of those harder-rocking, late career efforts by U2, Coldplay, and Midnight Oil in that while the band's instrumental talents, production skills, and sense of dynamics are too seasoned for the song to be a complete washout, the end result is just so much cheesier than what's come in years before. Several other songs (Give It All and A Knife In The Ocean) start with fairly intriquing opening verses (where lead singer Yannis Philipakkis is often at his best), but then devolve into bland choruses (where Philipakkis is usually at his worst).

Suffice it to say, though it's still better than many records I heard in 2015, and the band's sense of sonics and dynamics remain fairly awesome, What Went Down is my least favorite Foals album to date.  It may be technically better and more accomplished than their enthusiastic but uneven, jittery dance-driven debut Antidotes, but it lacks that album's youthful sense of mission, instead conveying the impression of a still formidable but road weary band who haven't yet given up the fight, but whose best days and best ideas might be behind them.

Let's hope I'm wrong, because this band has intermittently thrilled me both on stage and on record over the last decade. I want them to close out with something stronger than this.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: What Went Down, Mountain At My Gates, Snake Oil, London Thunder.

Track Listing:
1. What Went Down - 8
2. Mountain At My Gates - 9
3. Birch Tree - 6
4. Give It All - 6
5. Albatross - 7
6. Snake Oil - 8
7. Night Swimmers - 7
8. London Thunder - 8
9. Lonely Hunter - 7
10. A Knife In The Ocean - 7
Intangibles - Average To Slightly Low

Here are the offical videos for the album's opening two tracks, What Went Down and Mountain At My Gates.

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