Hang out the bunting! Yes, the tenth anniversary of Britpop is almost upon us, heralded by a rumoured Menswear reformation, some [a]Oasis[/a] reissues and a load of windy cultural commentators banging on in the broadsheets about the cultural relevance of Union Jack guitars, dog racing and [a]Sleeper[/a]. But there’s one obvious but fairly fundamental hitch: Britpop… well, it was just plain rubbish. Safe, conformist, jingoistic, inordinately London-centric and backwards-looking: little wonder Tony Blair was such a big fan, it was the musical equivalent of the middle way. All you needed to be a half-successful Britpop band was a London A-Z, an Adidas trackie top rescued from a ’70s school lost property bin and three albums, two of which were probably by David Bowie.
In fact, only three good things ever resulted from Britpop. One is ‘Supergrass Is 10’. That rules. One is the fact that whenever [a]Ocean Colour Scene[/a] walk down the street children still point and laugh. The last good thing is that music in Britain halfway through 2004 is so region-specific, idiosyncratic and draws on so many varied and unexpected influences that we will never ever accept a bunch of skinny Camden chancers peddling stolen new wave riffs again.
Except [a]Razorlight[/a]. But anyway. Let’s examine the evidence: Franz Ferdinand – that’s million-selling chart act [a]Franz Ferdinand[/a] – have single-handedly built a scene around crocheted girlfriends, Orange Juice records and Man At C&A trousers. In Liverpool, a bunch of bands have managed to blend their love of weapons-grade superskunk with [a]Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band[/a], sea shanties and the Richard Burton radio recording of ‘Under Milk Wood’. Jesus, for the first time in history even the Isle Of Wight – a place with all the edgy creative fervour of a 1950s Butlins camp – is producing good music thanks to [a]Bees[/a]. The. World. Has. Turned. Upside. Down.
The standard bearers of the movement no-one – yet – is calling The New Unorthodox are youthful Sunderland artcore types [a]The Futureheads[/a]. Check the signs: not only are they unwilling to moderate their heavy Mackem accents when singing, they also possess a healthy suspicion of London bar prices. Early gigs consisted of them miming to their own music, sometimes dressed as Cybermen. They see no contradiction in covering drippy ’80s indie savants the Television Personalities and remixing Mike Skinner. Their influences stretch – imagine! – way beyond[a]David Bowie[/a], sometimes even as far as donkey-jacket-wearing ’80s a cappella group The Flying Pickets.
In line with their claim in early interviews that they wanted to make music “as precise as robots”, the 15 songs on this debut album (their first release on new label 679) rattle by without pausing to take breath. Helmed first by ex-Gang Of Four man Andy Gill and then rejigged by production wunderkind Paul Epworth it’s a sparkly, concise art-rock delight. They’ve obviously been weened on fundamentalist US punk, and about 47 seconds in we’re confronted with four men shouting “Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!”, but ‘The Futureheads’ is not an angry record. OK, it’s not only an angry record: the daring acid-fried a cappella of ‘Danger Of The Water’ explains why they took their name from an old[a]Flaming Lips[/a] album, former single ‘First Day’ is a sarcastic Sunderland Devo, ‘Decent Days And Nights’ is a perfect fusion of [a]Fugazi[/a] and XTC and their cover
of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’ (added at the last minute in
an attempt to cap the silly prices people are paying on eBay for the single version) is just plain fun.
Best of all though – and yes, we’re getting well ahead of ourselves here – is the fact that you can imagine wanting to stick around for album number two from this band, an idea which shouldn’t really be as groundbreaking or extraordinary as it actually is. But, yeah. Finally British bands are exorcising the ghosts of Britpop. Rejoice!