The signs were less than encouraging when Future of the Left announced wholesale changes to their line-up. Mclusky and their new incarnation have always revelled in their three-piece restrictions, excelling in raw minimalistic assault. With the introduction of a second guitarist and the departure of founding bassist, Kelson Mathias, the very fabric of one of this generation’s great rock bands was being tampered with. Fans of Mclusky’s imperious Do Dallas or FotL’s Travels With Myself and Another had reason to worry; both are among the most perfectly realised post-hardcore releases to come out of the British Isles, biting coal-black humour and a harsh but melodic racket exuding from every grimy pore. To hear the band had two new members left a lot riding on the new album, and I for one was concerned.
I needn’t have been, as The Plot Against Common Sense maintains the incredibly high standards Andy Falkous has set for himself, while subtly honing his group’s sound and utilising the new setup to great effect. In fact the only significant change is some more focused production and a slightly more textured output. Though the more ardent Mclusky fans may find the new sheen a little difficult to swallow, as Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen did, rather than detracting from the raw caustic humour of it all, this more professional approach provides extra weight to the silly, while the bigger tracks become positively monstrous–a definite improvement.
As tight as ever, the band’s ear for hooks provides a litany of widescreen choruses, allowing some glossy respite from half-screamed, half-spat verses. Liberal use of major synth riffs add colour to proceedings while a sparse but taut rhythm section provides ample space for manoeuvre for the two guitarists. This is the main sonic evolution in the group’s sound, and the added texture doesn’t diminish from their immediacy or crackling musicianship. Make no mistake, this is as raw as ever, but the melodic sensibilities which have always set the group apart are allowed to go a little deeper on this record.
As with any other Falkous release, though, it is the lyrics which pull everything else up a notch or five. In a slightly more playful mood than on Travels…, The Plot finds him waxing lyrical on everything from plastic surgery (“Polymers Are Forever”) to Hollywood (the incredibly titled “Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop”). Falkous is quite simply the only person in music able to set out a reasoned argument in the form of a three-minute rant, holding the listener’s attention through a combination of irony, sarcasm, cynicism and unbridled rage, whilst simultaneously making you laugh and nod your head at the same time. When it works, as it does almost wholly on this record, Future of the Left seem far more relevant, important even, than ever before.
Thematically, Falkous is chewing up and spitting out the 21st century. From “Failed Olympic Bid” to “Camp Cappucino,” the band pinpoint, skewer and dismember our mundane interests with consummate ease. By honing in on subject matter, Falco has turned from a stream-of-consciousness lyricist into a powerful satirist–providing the thousand words to a number of simple pictures in each song. On top of this, The Plot finds the group building on their palate, zeroing in on the details more than ever before, meaning the straight up fidgety punk (“Sheena Is A T-Shirt Salesman”), keyboard-led silliness (“A Guide To Men”) and the obligatory epic closer (“Notes On Achieving Orbit”) are all better realised than their cousins on previous albums.
The tunes are catchy as hell, too. The new line-up allows the group off the leash, lithely turning their hand to some groovier offerings like “Sorry, Dad, I Was Late For The Riots” and “Goals In Slow Motion,” a song which actually would suit sports montages better than it would care to admit. These knowing looks and tongue-in-cheek moments can grate over the 50 minutes, but sometimes the rapid-fire bile of Falco’s delivery is as powerful and hilarious as anything else on record. Take “Robocop,” a song about the homogenisation of the Hollywood film industry:
“Pirates of the Caribbean 47/ Johnny Depp stars as the robot pirate who lost his wife in a game of poker and has to win her back with hilarious consequences/ At least Harry Potter had a proper story/ In the sense that the characters crave an ending/ If only to release poor Billy Corgan/ From his role as the titular characters nemesis.”
Who else in the world would give you lyrics like these? This is why Future of the Left is still important; they won’t compromise, and who would want them to?
Falkous’ deadly political incision and ridiculous sense of humour lambasts high and low society as well as anyone. While Falco may set Future of the Left apart, it is the band’s brand of skittering, frantic arrangements which have somehow taken on another layer of anthemic shine, leaving the group perfectly positioned at all times between the sublime and the ridiculous, expertly firing barbs at society from a position of crushing melodic power.
Long may it continue.