By guest blogger James Goley
“Life Is Yours” marks 14 years of FOALS and their 7th album. No mean feat for one of the OG ‘NME’ crowd of the late 00’s. Where others have failed, the band seem to grow their fanbase with every release, outliving their peers who were seemingly destined for the ‘indie landfill’ site. The last album “Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2” scored the band their first UK number one (an accolade much overdue – yes I’m looking at you, Les Mis soundtrack) and the coveted ‘Best Group’ award at the BRIT Awards 2020. So the only way is up from here… right?
We’re now down to 60% of the original lineup, after losing stalwart Edwin Congreave – something fans had anticipated for a while, due to his concerns about the environmental impact of being in a touring band. He told the BBC in 2020 “I don’t want to fly ever again and this year I’ve had to look at the question of whether I should be in the band.” So is his absence felt in the music and does this mark the beginning of a new era for the band?
The album opens with the title track, which really sums up the album. It’s hopeful, with a ‘top-down, driving down an open highway’ vibe, proclaiming “Now that the great storm is over”. Whether that be a direct reference to the pandemic or not, this feels like a call to arms to embrace the time we have and drive into the sun.
In a statement as the album was announced, frontman Yannis Philippakis said “This time we wanted to find a new way to express ourselves. We wanted to refocus and do something that shared a DNA throughout the songs: a physicality, a danceability, and with energy and joyousness. It’s definitely the poppiest record we’ve ever made.” He’s definitely not wrong there.
Of the four pre-release singles – arguably too many for an album that is really only 10 tracks long (we’re counting summer sky as an interlude) – It’s impossible to deny a sway towards a poppier sound. This is of course nothing new for a band with this much longevity – Coldplay being the blueprint for segueing to a mainstream pop sound. It’s also very much in FOALS’ wheelhouse, with tracks such as “In Degrees“, “My Number” and “Mountain at My Gates” being some of their most popular. But these tracks shine as part of a larger project, that has both peaks and troughs. The problem with the slew of tracks released here is that they feel like non-events, because they lack clear distinction from one another and you’re afforded little time to go on the journey, that the album as a whole does magnificently. The blueprint throughout seems to be “On The Luna“, or ‘Total Life Forever’s title track. That being said “2am” is one of their strongest, with a summery guitar groove that the band have become synonymous with. Also providing some classic FOALS introspection through its lyrics. Here, ruminating on the phrase “nothing good happens after midnight” or in this case ‘2 AM’ and the crossroads that one finds themselves at, at the end of a night. You could go home, but a world of possibility awaits if you choose to keep going. A message that permeates throughout the album. The choice to ‘choose life’. It really should have been the lead single.
The song that they chose to lead with, “Wake Me Up” ,was obviously written with live performances in mind and the almost call and response nature of the chorus lends itself perfectly to arenas. Something special happens with these boys in a live setting, so you can see why a song like this would have been written when their wings were somewhat clipped during the pandemic. Opposingly, “Looking High” is one of the more faceless tracks they have ever released. A track that seems somewhat beneath them and indistinguishable from their peers. This could be a ‘Friendly Fires’ or ‘Everything Everything’ track and that’s not to disparage either band. It’s just missing the FOALS identity. I can appreciate Yannis for trying some different things with his voice here, but there is no payoff. However, “The Sound” really does feel like a spark of brilliance and is an example of where tying something a little unexpected really does pay off. When the track begun, I thought I was listening to another artist. The intro is very similar to a lot of Jessie Ware’s latest output and really leans into the disco resurgence of the last few years, with an SG Lewis/Chic inspired beat. This is easily one of my favorite tracks on the album and should get the single treatment.
Released just 48 hours before the album, we were blessed with “Crest of the Wave“. This was the reprieve I was clamoring for. With an unmistakably FOALS intro, the sound of this one calls back to tracks such as “Lonely Hunter“, “Bad Habit” and “Everytime” – an often overlooked favorite of mine from “Holy Fire“. These are all tracks that sit somewhere between melancholy and funk. Yannis never sounds better than when laying down a longing vocal. That is what FOALS do best. Melancholy within a groove. It therefore made sense that this stemmed from something the band had been sitting on since 2011. A track that diehards have known as ‘Isaak’ for some time. When released, the band took to twitter “A portion of “Crest of the Wave” existed in 2011, and we had demoed it in Australia and just left it for years. But it was one of those songs which had always been at the back of our minds, like there was some unfinished business there. As we were playing around with it with some of the themes on this record, we cracked it open and really reveled in adding lots of layers to it in the studio.”
As a fan since the ‘MySpace’ days, there was definitely an adjustment period that I had to go through, after feeling a little disappointed with the tracks leading up to the release. However, in the context of the album, it all just works. This is not the same band that went into 2020 and neither are any of us. You have to appreciate their attempt at something different here. They set out to create a record that you can dance to and they have definitely achieved that – very much necessary after the years leading up to its release. A lot of “Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost” felt like it was coming from a place of despair and frustration with the world around us. Here, Yannis, Jimmy and Jack have made a conscious decision not to wallow in that grey and step out in technicolor. “Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost” now feels like a bookend to their original saga and a fitting tribute to both Walter, Edwin and what the five of them were able to achieve. It provides them the freedom to explore a more fully realized concept like this and that’s exciting for a band that are still going strong, long past the genre sell by date.
STAR RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
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