"You're not just a punchline now…"
With his third album under the Future of the Left banner Andy Falkous has matched the output of his previous band, the legendary post-punk/hardcore trio mclusky. And there are a couple of points of comparison with his old combo’s third (and final) album, The Difference Between Me And You Is That I’m Not On Fire: both albums go off in interesting new directions, and both are about three tracks too long to be perfect.
However, if The Difference… sounded like a band struggling manfully to follow their acknowledged masterpiece, the diversity of The Plot Against Common Sense speaks to the new possibilities of the band’s expanded four-piece line up. Gone is charismatic-but-rudimentary bassist Kelson Mathias, replaced by ex-Melbourne girl (and Million Dead co-founder) Julia Ruzicka and second guitarist Jimmy Watkins, and the sound of the band has opened up as a result. It’s no exaggeration that the old line up couldn’t play two-thirds of these songs, a point made most obviously on the growling, snarling third track – and hands-down masterpiece – ‘Beneath the Waves an Ocean’.
Actually, let’s dwell on that song for a bit, since it’s a distillation of everything amazing about the band in 2012. It’s principally because Ruzika locks with powerhouse drummer Jack Egglestone in a way that was never true of Mathias or mclusky bassist Jon Chapple, turning the band from a shuddering Mad Max battle truck into the sleekly menacing semi trailer from Duel. And Falko’s chant of “No way you’ll ever find peace / You’ll ever find peace with the name they gave you” is his most singable line in a career of singable lines.
It’s one hell of an act to follow, but the band are up to the challenge: the poppy, punky (not to be confused with “pop-punky”) ‘Goals in Slow Motion’ is easily the most straightforward track the band have ever made (and is just begging to accompany World Cup footage – am I right, television?), the roaring ‘I Am The Least Of Your Problems’ could have sat comfortably on 2009’s magnificent Travels With Myself and Another, and the one-chord ‘Failed Olympic Bid’ reframes the band as this the snotty offspring of Metal Box-era PiL. And every song has at least one laugh-out-loud line (my favourite: “Where were you when Russell Brand discovered fire?” from the jubilant closer ‘Notes on Achieving Orbit’).
There are moments when the production struggles to capture the punch of the arrangements, but if there’s one serious criticism it’s that the band risk pigeonholing themselves by releasing the wackiest songs as singles: Falkous’ sense of humour has always been bleak, black and savage, but songs like the (genuinely funny) ‘Robocop 4: Fuck Off Robocop’ and ‘Sheena is a T-Shirt Salesman’ are better taken in the context of the album. Far worse bands have been sidelined as novelty acts for less; then again, it would take a more foolhardy man than I to laugh in the face of Andy Falkous.