Foals FoalsTotal Life Forever
TRANSGRESSIVE/ SUB POP
In the wake of the celebrated “Antidotes,” Yannis Philippakis declared in 2008 that Foals wanted to completely wash its hand of British indie. The group leader and spokesman criticised the lack of perspective of a scene that they assured they didn’t feel connected to. His words surprised and disappointed me: however much others insisted on seeing an outstanding digestion of math-rock, afro-beat and other hyphenated genres in the middle, I never saw anything there beyond the umpteenth epigraph of the cyclical post-punk revival. In fact, this one that didn’t even come close to the great post- Strokes references like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand or Arctic Monkeys. When NME was proclaiming them to be the new Radiohead, it had already gone to their head in the worst possible way, and recently, aiming to fan the media flames in preparation for the launching of their new album, Philipakkis was calling their highly-praised debut “faulty.” Now, as was to be expected, his come-back has the same proud, haughty tone.
Where the centrifugal “Antidotes” swallowed everything inwards, “Total Life Forever” reinforces a contrary, centripetal force that allows the songs to expand outwards, progressing through dilated timings and more atmospheric sounds. Although there are orgasmic crescendos led by Philippakis’s cross-dressed voice, which takes on different accents and various falsettos, the majority of the songs emphasise a tone of, shall we say, greater circumspection. What they get this way, using the same manoeuvre as Bloc Party for “A Weekend In The City” (2007), is to decrease the amount of racket, which had us finishing the first album with our tongues hanging out. Recorded along with the member of the former Clor Luke Smith and mixed by Alan Moulder (who, by the way, gave form to the Okereke group’s disappointing “Intimacy”), it became exactly what Foals needed: an album that sounds more expert, more structured, showing their ability to evolve as a band. Nevertheless, it is an album that has had too much hygiene applied to reinforce the idea of the whole, which makes it appear too distant—as dazzling, but also as vain as their first work was in other aspects (that disorganised conglomeration of hits). A small example: the warmth of their endless polyrhythms ends up being tepid, because they are treated too coldly. The video of “Spanish Sahara,” which could have been expected to be really hot, says it all in that regard...
The final finish of this “Total Life Forever,” with the Nirvana-esque cover, is radically rigorous and shows an extraordinary physical condition. First conclusion: the foals have turned into exuberant, but thoroughly domesticated horses, but lacking in the creativity given off by technically parallel patterns. Like Delorean or Phoenix, I still think the Foals have too much brain and too little heart. Once again “Spanish Sahara” is a paradigm for the album: let us remember that it was their letter of introduction, but not the first single, for which they chose another, more sure-fire piece, “This Orient.” Just take a look at the lyrics, too presumptuous, focused on alienation and the uncertainty of the future that awaits us, and blah blah blah, that end up being more hackneyed than interesting. “Don’t forget everything you care for, for it will be nothing more tomorrow” (in the elaborate “After Glow”), “this total life forever will never be enough, no” (in “Total Life Forever”) or “the future is not what it used to be” (in “Black Gold”). The last two lines are borrowed from Raymond Kurzweil, American futurist and inventor, an eminence in the field of artificial intelligence and the person who started to give them the necessary clues to delimit the background concept, just when Philippakis became absolutely fascinated with his text “The Singularity Is Near.”
So let’s talk about singularities: what about the distinction of Foals? Where does that stand? Are we looking at something not so much inspired as suggestive? To what extent can we say that this Oxford group’s project has lost steam? What would those indie-kids who don’t know Fela Kuti and who are waiting for them at Benicàssim, anxious for some spastic dancing, think of this new title? Or the more delicate question: are we looking at an excess of perspicacity, or is it just that this album bores like “Antidotes” didn’t? After listening to it several times, it’s hard for me to say. I don’t know if it’s something spectacular or if I find it to be only average. In other words, it leaves me pretty indifferent in general, although it’s easy for me to praise it if I try. And so I come back to where I started from: the relevance of the formerly unsalvageable labels that we mentioned above has shrunk, along with the catchiness of the songs. The math-rock as such is barely present, the kraut fringe of “2 Trees” looks like it’s torn from Radiohead, and the punk-funk melodies run the risk that Franz Ferdinand or The Rapture, with their “Pieces Of The People We Love” will sue them for plagiarism ( “Miami”). To say it in a more synthetic way: in the end there is practically nothing that can’t be assigned to the equation “More Songs About Buildings And Food” ( Talking Heads, 1978) + “The Head On The Door” ( The Cure, 1985), which says much about the future of the group. They would gain a lot in authenticity if they would start paying more attention to their present than to the past. Otherwise, I’m going to keep reserving them a space that is less than mediocre on the scale of the truly original.