I considered opening this review with a detailing of my experience with British music, but really that would be like detailing my experience with music, period. Considering that the UK is slightly smaller in size than Oregon, the ratio of British bands that have impacted rock history is remarkable. Then again, considering that their society is the basis for ours, it’s not really that surprising. Either way, growing up as a musician in this part of the world must give you a tremendous amount of local heroes to be inspired by, yet year after year, it seems like the music from across the pond gets more and more similar. Britain used to be the taste-makers for America, with the best and most original music first finding an audience overseas before America would accept them. But like Arctic Monkey and Kaiser Chiefs, The Futureheads looked like they were becoming another example in an all too familiar story of a hyped band somewhat disappointing when their music arrives and disappointing further with their inability to get better. Instead of the brilliance of The Stone Roses, The Clash, Radiohead, Pulp, and Blur, we get Coldplay. Gee, thanks guys.
But imagine living in such a small place with such a rich music history. I feel a certain pride and connection to California bands, but though they are also Americans, Brooklyn might as well be another country. To grow up within driving distance of places that birthed punk, shoegaze, Heavy Metal, Britpop, and whatever you call Radiohead must create an overwhelming amount of confusion about which to identify with and which to cast aside. This is what The Futureheads excel at, and where many other bands fail. On The Chaos, The Futureheads seem focused on making the music they love, and though it is modernized sonically, it is also completely retro. You’ll hear Gang of Four. You’ll hear them leave their homeland for the hardcore of Minor Threat and the post-hardcore of Fugazi. Hell, you’ll hear new wave too. By knowing their saints and not trying to reference the entire canon, their album actually avoids chaos, unless you count the confused state your brain reaches when it realizes you actually liked the new The Futureheads album.
So the best way to describe The Chaos would simply be a return to form. In fact, when played consecutively with their self-titled debut, it is hard to notice where one club ends and the other begins. The biggest difference? No hyper-catchy Kate Bush cover. It’s like the last two albums never took place, which is fine by me. From the opening of the title track, you realize how much you missed punk music that wasn’t recorded like a classic, but was written like it. You can actually play this album loud. The “5,4,3,2,1” countdown is startling if played at a sufficient volume. In fact, if anything, “The Chaos” is almost too much of a good thing, bordering on parody. You could imagine Hedwig and The Angry Inch performing it. But second track “Struck Dumb” is an anthem of the first order, with an instantly accessible guitar riff and a chorus that makes you want to kick your dog in the face (please don’t hurt your animals. I would never hurt Tumbleweed; she was just the first thing I saw while writing that sentence. Kick a chair or something.).
As the album unfolds, the tracks range from enjoyable to plain-old awesome. “I Can Do That” actually manages to be both annoying and addicting at the same time (isn’t that the epitome of punk?), with the chorus so catchy you almost hate yourself for wanting to go back to it. But then you do. You will also want second servings of “Heartbeat Song” and “Jupiter”, which goes from Queen to Los Campesinos! to Devo all in the same four minutes. That’s right, I said four minutes. Punk music that can sustain a four minute song. While you purists will cry foul, I will be surprised that the purists can operate a machine as complicated as a computer. Everyone gets surprised sometimes; deal with a long punk jam.
The lyrics are less than memorable and the tracks do tend to all run into each other and become muddled, but smack dab in the middle, there is an oddball track called “Sun Goes Down”, which is more Misfits in its origin, providing a darker tone than the rest of the bouncy record. And it is absolutely killer. If you need an anthem for heading out on the town for a night of trouble, I have a gift for you. The song ends into the most chaotic moment on the record and proves the boys aren’t totally bogged down in one sound– just more focused than they have been in a long time. The Futureheads have not created a classic record by any stretch, but they have proved that they are still relevant, which is hardly something we can say about many of their UK contemporaries from the early 2000’s.