It’s hard not to feel sorry for Foals. The precociously talented quintet from Oxford had a difficult challenge in answering their third album quandary. How to follow up a fabulous Mercury-nominated second album that, in ‘Spanish Sahara’, boasted the best composition to come out this decade so far?
The band plumped for producers Flood and Alan Moulder to help with some answers. First single ‘Inhaler’ surprised everyone - here was a band wearing a heavier, buzzy, funk-rock sound. It hinted at a sea change that is misleading - it’s the heaviest song on the album by far.
There’s plenty of key Foals characteristics still to be found: fabulous funky rhythms that change at the drop of a hat, jangly, agitated guitars and the compelling layered complexity of their song writing meaning you can listen to the LP ten times straight and not get bored. And yet... something’s not quite right. The pop factor has been ramped up, especially on two-dimensional ‘My Number’, and following song ‘Bad Habit’ that’s reminiscent of ‘Silent Alarm’-era Bloc Party.
Some of the lyrics feel contrived: “Sticks and stones will break my bones” (‘Inhaler’), and “I once was lost, but now I’m found” (‘Late Night’) being the worst offenders. It’s at the end of the album where the group really come into their own - the Delta-inspired ‘Providence’, with its plaintive cotton fields vocal that eventually morphs into a dizzying Battles-style wig out, followed by the beautifully fragile ‘Stepson’ and ‘Moon’, which collectively fade ‘Holy Fire’ out into the ether. There’s plenty to commend it, but with such high expectations, it’s perhaps inevitable that this album could never live up to them.
Words by LAURA FOSTER