The Futureheads

News and Tributes

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Though the Area EP suggested that the Futureheads' sound had matured since the days of their early singles and self-titled debut album, the extent to which the band has grown on News and Tributes still comes as a bit of a shock. Granted, many of the songs on The Futureheads had been around for a while, so it was almost inevitable that when the band returned with new material, it would sound at least a little different. Still, the big, polished sound that producer Ben Hillier gives News and Tributes -- which adds muscle and swagger to the rockers and atmosphere to the ballads -- comes as a bit of a surprise, which is only underscored by the album's lyrical depth. Basically, the Futureheads have grown up, and News and Tributes is all about the changes that happen and difficult choices that must be made while growing up. This means the album has a lot less songs about robots and first days on the job, and a lot more songs with titles like "Cope" and lyrics such as "please remember to let me down gently." Fortunately, though, the tension between the Futureheads' bigger, more confident sound and lyrics that are anything but gives their music a sharper focus than it did on their first album. The opening track, "Yes/No," sounds like it's bounding out of the gates, but advises listeners to "think about it properly, go back to the beginning." It's emphatically indecisive, eloquently expressing the push-pull of entering grownup life. "Back to the Sea" is a shattering breakup song about moving on even when the one you love wants to stay where they are, while "News and Tributes," which pays its respects to the 1958 Manchester United football team (most of which were killed, along with several officials and journalists, in an icy Munich air crash that was the football equivalent of "the day the music died"), is a pretty literal, and touching, statement on the death of idealism and innocence. Even the album's cheeriest track and lead single, "Skip to the End," is in keeping with the rest of News and Tributes' sadder-but-wiser feel: as bouncy as it is, as winning as its "na-na-na-na"s are, it's also a wish to avoid -- or at least be prepared for -- any more heartbreak. Songs like this, as well as the playful, Beach Boys-tinged "Thursday" and the ultimately hopeful final song, "Face," ensure that News and Tributes never crosses the line from earnest to self-pitying. Even though the razor-sharp riffs of "Fallout" and the storming rocker "Return of the Berzerker" feel like shout outs to the more innocent days of The Futureheads, News and Tributes is a far cry from the all-out rush of fun of their debut. Ultimately, though, it's a stronger set of songs, showing that the Futureheads are in it for the long haul -- another fine sign of maturity. [The U.S. version of News and Tributes includes tracks from the U.K. Area EP and Shy Child's loopy remix of "Decent Days and Nights."]

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