Call it a musical midlife crisis, maturation in reverse, or simply the twists of 20 years consumed by long-players and "seminal works of rock genius" (or some such bullshit), but I find myself more and more begging for the fast and cheap ephemeral pop song in its finest gone-tomorrow form. I want bands that have no designs on permanency, no wish for more than a hit single and a few nameless shags in the green room; bands that aren't thinking, on their way to their first day in a studio, about what the extras will look like on their retrospective DVD.
That's why I'm pleading with The Futureheads: Eleven months, no more! I pray for an onstage bust-up at the first 2,500-seat headline gig; an inter-band punch-up at the contract-renewal meeting after album No. 2; a shared groupie playing kiss-and-tell, scandal in the press, alcoholism or drug abuse -- please, just break up. I assure you that, 15 years later, when we walk into the bar owned by guitarist and singer Barry Hyde, people will be able to say sincerely: "The Futureheads is the reason I started a band / bought a guitar / got my babymama pregnant / beat up the bully / burned down my boss's house." And when Hyde replies that it was "a long time ago, and a fucking horrible point in my life," we'll know the contract is complete.
A long way around to a simple fact: The Futureheads is one of the best albums of 2004, never mind debuts. Of course, it was genetically engineered to appeal to me specifically -- DNA from Andy Partridge (XTC), Colin Newman (Wire), Billy Bragg and even a few genes from album producer Andy Gill (Gang of Four) combined and enhanced with modern technology and cynicism and then abbreviated a la Futureheads hometown (Sunderland, U.K.) neighbors The Toy Dolls. But can I help it if they've got great taste?
Sometimes the influences are a bit too apparent, as on "Meantime," which seems more than a nod to Wire's "Dot Dash," or "The City Is Here For You To Use," a veritable tribute to White Music-era XTC. It's tempting to include the cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" in that list, but The Futureheads' version sounds so much like one of their songs that it was a minute in before it resonated as the proverbial "Bad Cover Version" (bad in the good way). It also displays the band's most interesting facet: the use of church-bell style backing vocals, arranged like a cappella choir bings! and pings! and done in the band members' thick Northern accents. The result, as used on several songs to varying levels of genius and hilarity, is gruffly harmonious, a whole spectrum of flipped fingers to musical conventions (both pop and punk).
It's obvious, therefore, that The Futureheads have to break up, before the band's skills catch up with its ideas and that raw "into the studio Friday, album done Sunday" edge falls to the quagmire of ability and conceptualization. Until then, though, we've got this reclamation of punk's energy and vigorous confusion to see us through.