Things To Say In A Plastic Voice That I Learned On The Way To Hell
It would be a shame if the legacy of Future of the Left’s terrific new album, The Plot Against Common Sense, were reduced to the pissing contest that resulted when a Pitchfork critic gave it a facile and ignorant review, to which bandleader Andy Falkous responded on his own blog with more vitriol than may have been strictly necessary. This is, however, the Internet Age, when everyone’s a cultural mover, and the discussion surrounding an object is always more important than the object itself. So: Ian Cohen’s review was shallow and dumb and self-satisfied; it probably did more damage to Pitchfork, which has a reputation for crippling self-satisfaction, than it did to Future of the Left; and Falkous’ response was both funny and unnecessary, and will get him the kind of reputation as an ‘asshole’ that is currently enjoyed by Steve Albini, who was his primary producer during the old Mclusky days. This is convenient for everybody since it allows us the remember guys like Falkous and Albini as contentious, ‘difficult’ jerks (as opposed to people who fail to show the proper deference to horseshit critics) and not have to worry about how excellent they are at their jobs.
So, with that out of the way, how is the goddamned album? The album is goddamned great. There are plenty of bands today dabbling in noise-rock, even if the dominant faction of so-called indie rockers have forgotten how to make their guitars loud; but there are precious few who possess the ability to create such a head-spinning racket while maintaining such an effective sense of song structure. That’s always been Falco’s strong suit; indeed, it might be time, especially given the Pringles-like rate at which the original model goes through sidemen, to anoint him our permanent understudy to Mark E. Smith. The two of them share a genius for merciless lyrical observation, Smith’s delivered in a sardonic Northern staccato and Falkous’ in a squalling Welsh alarm-call; and they both have a talent for wrapping their pronouncements of execution in a respectable, if not polite, presentation that makes it all the more vicious in delivery. Other bands, often described as ‘anarchic’, allow their chaotic noise free reign, and while this can be effective, the sounds of the Fall and Future of the Left are more subversive by putting the poison hand in an iron glove. Both, at their best, develop and contain their skeletal but effective riffs, letting the explosive noise come at the right moment instead of inundating the listener to the point of numbness — after all, a bomb is a useful weapon only if it goes off at the right time.
The Plot Against Common Sense is a nasty little bomb indeed; the music is the explosion and Falco’s lyrics are the shrapnel that pushes it from deadly to devastating. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that FotL is a mere continuation of Mclusky; while it’s plain to see Falkous’ barbed sensibilities as the driving force behind both, the notion does a disservice both to Jonathan Chapple’s contributions to the older band and to the direction the newer band has taken since its inception. The post-hardcore tone and pop power of Chapple’s bass work has given way to the dance-party-at-the-end-of-the-world rhythmic aggression of Future of the Left’s death disco keyboard stabs, and Julia Ruzicka of Million Dead has been a terrific addition to the lineup, seamlessly leading the way for the band’s new phase. And drummer Jack Egglestone should finally start getting his proper due; he’s been the stalwart of both bands nearly forever, and it’s his snapping, pounding attack that gives them both their most distinctive sonic qualities. Few bands — especially ones with such boiling acid at the center — can keep going like this for long; the fact that Falco, even after making two of the decade’s best records with Mclusky, goes from strength to strength with Future of the Left tells me they’re no fluke. He’s been on a roll from 2003 to the present that’s comparable to the jaw-dropping run that Mark E. Smith had with the Fall in the 1980s.
Getting down to cases, Common Sense kicks off with “Sheena is a T-Shirt Salesman”, which makes the case 30 seconds in that Future of the Left wants your attention and you’d better give it up. Falco’s got a positively evil-mastermind way with infectious chants; if he was less creative he’d be forming protest circles, and if he was more creative, God help us all, he’d be writing advertising jingles. The way he blends “artistic license” with “autistic radio” in the song’s nasty fade is the kind of masterstroke he seems to make without even trying hard. “Failed Olympic Bid” has the bomb-sight accuracy and chilly lethality of a Suicide single; “Beneath the Waves of an Ocean” is a good showcase for what Ruzicka brings to the party. “Cosmo’s Ladder” seems like a bit of a goof with its martial strut and Munsters organ, but it’s got some fine vamping from Falkous, and it gives way to the slow, insinuating “City of Exploded Children”. The album never finds time to rest long enough to deliver any lulls; some songs are stronger than others, of course (the formless “Camp Cappuccino” and the slightly silly “A Guide to Men” could be lost without many tears), but there’s at least a half-dozen straight-up monsters to make up for the lesser songs, including the magnificently tense “Anchor”. The four-song rogue’s gallery that runs from powerhouse first single “Polymers are Forever” to the lyrically murderous “I am the Least of Your Problems”, with “Sorry, Dad, I Was Late for the Riots” and the absolutely fucking smash “Robocop 4: Fuck Off Robocop” wedged in between, is the most dangerous lineup of any album I’ve heard this year.
Picking on a band that’s been this good for this long is just carping. There’s no point in striking a pose of ‘balance’ and ‘fairness’ when so many other utterly inferior records are going to have their much deeper weaknesses ignored in the name of hype. And besides, one of Falkous’ strengths as a songwriter is that he knows himself as well as anyone who’s listened to him. It’s not uncommon for a repetitive bit of music to be saved by a perfect vocal couplet or a stunning shriek; nor is it often that you can dwell on the rare flat or oversold lyric, because the music raging around it is so arm-flailingly great. There are other bands that can bring you scraps of what they dug up from the scene of this crime, but when you’re in the mood for this kind of angry blow-up, this kind of splatter of perfectly phrased graffiti, no one but Future of the Left will do. Get this one, and get it good.