Foals ‘Holy Fire’ – Review

4 Mar
On ‘Total Life Forever’ a giant wave of reverb and ‘atmosphere’ soaked Foals’ music, leaving the sharp corners of their sound soft and well rounded. I never much liked the Math-pop style of their debut but it did lend songs like ‘Cassius’ and ‘Balloons’ a sharp urgency that was lost on the pretty but meandering second album. Luckily on new release ‘Holy Fire’ Foals have reinstated some of that urgency whilst retaining the warm atmospherics of ‘Total Life…’. It makes for an edgy but accessible record – and it may be their best yet.
Perhaps unsurprisingly they’ve done this with the help of former U2 associate Flood, a man who has ruined as many albums as he’s helped with his stadium sized production values. Here though he does a fine job of elevating Foals sound. He happens to be the producer partly responsible for U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’, an album that ‘Holy Fire’ feels fairly similar to. Like U2 at this time, Foals have taken their dark indie-pop groove and made it sound BIG. It’s a compliment to say that the band has done this without losing any of their credibility OR pop smarts in the process.
In fact it’s their tuneful instinct that make songs like ‘My Number’ and ‘Bad Habit’ so irresistible. ‘My Number,’ a simple song built around the premise of a man addressing his former lover, is clearly the best thing Foals have recorded since ‘Cassius’. It’s got so many hooks that the band can afford to put the biggest one right at the start of the song. It repeats over the course of the four minutes with no alteration save for the playful dance of the instruments.
The album doesn’t start quite as urgently. ‘Prelude ‘builds quietly and overstays its welcome but it does a fine job of preparing you for ‘Inhaler’ a song that plays on Foals fiddly reputation for at least one and a half minutes before dropping the most epic, un-foals-like riff imaginable right in the centre of the tune. From here on in things are far from predictable…
The first 2/3rds of the record is engaging, poppy and deftly produced. It helps that lyrically this is their most direct work to date and Yannis is much improved as a vocalist. But despite a consistent start and a couple of awesome tunes, Foals have not made a classic album here. The final third is just as inconsistent as ‘Total Life Forever’ and ‘Antidotes’ and for all their brilliant pop instincts the band still insist on dragging songs out for too long.
The group’s fidgety nature has always held them back, and although they’ve been very restrained for most of ‘Holy Fire’ some awkward riffs and disorienting rhythms still gets in the way on some of these songs. That said, Foals are a band that keep on reaching for the stars, and keep on getting better. ‘Holy Fires’ may be a bit of a slog towards the end but it still succeeds in many interesting areas.  If Foals carry on at this rate then the next album really could be the masterpiece they crave.

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