The Futureheads – ‘Rant’

They sound beautiful in the buff

During some recent channel-hopping, the remote stopped on Melvyn Bragg’s …On Class And Culture, where a colliery band were parping ‘My Heart Will Go On’ over archival footage of miners. “I didn’t realise this song was this old!” I thought, picturing wives gazing out the window, thinking of their lover, near, far… Of course, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ was written for Titanic, and mistaking its mawkish strains for a mining song is borderline offensive.

But it’s testament to how much gravitas those weighty horns and rousing voices can lend that such idiocy were possible, and it’s a profundity that The Futureheads have exploited on ‘Rant’, their entirely a cappella fifth album. They’ve appropriated medieval rounds, sea shanties, barbershop and a little scat which they’ve used to reinterpret their own songs, trad numbers, and a few covers in the cheesy Dion vein.

Their version of the Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Meet Me Halfway’ – most notable for its video in which Apl.De.Ap resembles a sexy Tusken Raider – is brilliant, Jaff, Ross and Dave’s voices swinging with pendulum heft as Barry pleads, “I want you so badly, it’s my only wish”. Impressive too is their lyrically ironic take on Kelis’ ‘Acapella’, where she equates true romance with symphonies, clearly not a view that The Futureheads share.
But highlighting covers of pop hits gives the unfair impression that this is canny Live Lounge fare when ‘Rant’ runs deeper than that – and than its title lets on. While the record is an unexpected assault if you’ve not had The Housemartins’ cover of ‘Caravan Of Love’ on repeat since 1986, it comes across as warmly persuasive rather than aggressive.

Fun abounds – pub yarn ‘The Old Dun Cow’ sounds as though it really was recorded “blue blind paralytic drunk”; their cover of Sparks’ ‘The No 1 Song In Heaven’ is astonishing, the original’s jittery arpeggiations replaced by pneumatic bursts of “DIDDLY! DOODLY!”; and the round-singing of ‘Beeswing’ and their own ‘Thursday’ are delightfully romantic. With their popularity having waned, the tricky ‘Rant’ is hardly the record that’s going to restore The Futureheads to their former stature, but as an honest dispatch from the coal-face, it’s glorious indeed.

Laura Snapes