Foals – Holy Fire Foals – Holy Fire

foals_holy-fireOxford five-piece Foals might just be one of the most frustrating acts around in contemporary rock music. Way back around 2007 when Yannis Philippakis and co. were being presented to NME readers everywhere as a band that would happily play jaunty math-rock to a sweaty house party, it was hard to see dates at the Royal Albert Hall or at the top of a festival billing down the line. It’s fair to say that they’ve undergone a considerable evolution since then – one listen to either of the new singles ‘Inhaler’ or ‘My Number’ will tell you all you need to know about how far this band have come. But despite that progression, there still exists within the Foals discography an irritating inconsistency – 2007’s at times catchy but ultimately scattershot Antidotes might have been better off had Dave Sitek been left on mixing duties, for example; and whilst atmospheric follow-up Total Life Forever promised much, it could probably be said that of the eleven tracks on show, ‘Spanish Sahara’ was -and remains -the lone standout. Holy Fire then represents a chance for the former Mercury Prize nominees to finally deliver a great album from start to finish; a statement of intent.

And from the rhythmic, menacing build of opener ‘Prelude’, it seems like they just might. To be filed in-between the xx’s ‘Intro’ and Interpol’s ‘Untitled’ in terms of brilliant opening tracks, it marks the first signs of a real maturity in sound. The intricate fret-wizardy and scratchy vocals are still present, but they’re now backed up with a straight-up stadium-rock melody. And if that track feels like it’s building up to something epic, it’s followed by the grungy -shuffle of ‘Inhaler’ – a track with a ‘chorus’ so brazen it practically arches its back. Indeed, it’s hard not to imagine a packed live audience going berserk upon hearing that claustrophobic build and release for the first time, and ‘Inhaler’ shows more so than any other track here how good Foals are at building on their own template.

And it’s when tinkering with an already successful formula that Holy Fire burns brightest. Whilst the soaring ‘Bad Habit’ might sail a little too close to The Temper Trap’s ‘Sweet Disposition’ for some, it’s probably the best example of a catchy, no frills pop song on Holy Fire. Similarly, whilst ‘My Number’ follows on from the post-punk leanings of Total Life Forever’s ‘Miami’ and ‘Black Gold’, it still feels like more of an urgent pop song than anything Foals have produced before.

Whilst this all sounds good – and it is- Holy Fire suffers from some familiar failings. As with Foal’s previous two studio albums, Holy Fire suffers from an unforgivable dip in its second half. There simply aren’t any tracks that grab the attention quite like those in the album’s first half (save for the climax of the power-chord jam that is ‘Providence’ -and wondering how good it would sound live). There’s also some extremely dodgy lyrical themes at work here, never more obvious than on ‘Late Night’, “Now I’m the last cowboy in this town/ empty veins and my plastic broken crown”. Philippakis also promises to “..shimmy and shake” and then to “wake and bake” during ‘Inhaler’. It doesn’t quite put a dampener on the song’s epic production values – but it sure as hell tries its hardest.

Collective critical wisdom seems to suggest that these flaws pale in significance when set against the backdrop of Holy Fire; that a British guitar band making an ambitious rock album in this vein should be applauded. They should, and the journey Foals have come on since those heady house party days is commendable. But the fact remains that with five years having passed since their debut there exists no definitive Foals album, and the Oxford quintet now find themselves as a great singles band. It may be the case that as with Hot Chip, it is simply wrong to expect a new Foals album to be a great one. It is maddening from a band which promised – and continue to promise- so much.

Foals – Holy Fire (2013) Album Tracklist:

1. Prelude
2. Inhaler
3. My Number
4. Bad Habit
5. Everytime
6. Late Night
7. Out Of The Woods
8. Milk & Black Spiders
9. Providence
10. Stepson
11. Moon

Foals - Holy Fire, reviewed by Lemon on 2013-03-12T04:14:39-07:00 rating 3.3 out of 5

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