In a year of shrinking attention for that perennial badge of teenage credibility – the indie band – there was one Welsh guitar outfit with a reason to be cheerful this year: the upfront, in-your-face and unapologetically political Future of the Left. Arising from the ashes of Welsh music scene’s elder statesman, Mclusky, Future of the Left have finally stamped their own personality on affairs by winning the Welsh Music Prize with their third long-player, The Plot Against Common Sense.
And luckily for Future of the Left, they have both a personality and something to say, traits that find a more natural home in homegrown hip-hop than in the slew of Strokes soundalikes that littered the noughties, leading to the now parlous state of male fronted, four guys in skinny Ts collectives summed up in the coinage of the term ‘landfill indie’.
Deeply political and unafraid of expressing themselves, Future of the Left have – gasp! – opinions, and seemingly little time to moon over failed relationships, especially when the more pressing concern is a failed state. And their concern isn’t tokenistic: this isn’t a band cashing in on issues that some of us have only just been forced to recognise. If the name they’ve sported for over half a decade isn’t clue enough, just listening to their first album will prove that this isn’t a band reflecting the times, but the times throwing into sharp relief what the Left have been preaching for years.
So while this band do have personality, it is not of the warm, welcoming kind – they even describe themselves as ‘a naughty band’. But that doesn’t mean that listening to The Plot Against Common Sense is akin to listening to an out-of-work friend’s angry, ill-conceived polemic for the better part of an hour. No, these guys are funny. Uncomfortably so.
Opening with the one-two punch of lead single ‘Sheena is T-shirt Salesman’ (a veritable V-sign considering the radio baiting lyrics) and ‘Failed Olympic Bid’, which recasts winning the Olympics as failing due to the effect such a money-pit has on the rest of the country, is a statement of intent. This is no turn on, tune in, drop out affair – whether you agree with the sentiment in the songs or not, you can’t deny they’re conviction in demading to be heard. Released pre-Games, one could see ‘Failed Olympic Bid’ as unfortunate since the Olympics were such a success, but their diagnosis still holds true: the Olympics just allowed us to forget it for a couple of months. Back in the real world, the song’s sentiment is emerging anew as the bad news returns to the top of the news agenda. Along with ‘Sheena…’ and others rabble rousers such as ‘Dad I Was Late for the Riots’, FOTL provide a more apt soundtrack of the times than any of the assembly line of ‘living large’ wish-fulfilment tunes that currently dominate the airwaves and clog the charts.
Some could say the lyrics are too declamatory, but I for one am glad to find a band who don’t swaddle their ideas in a vaguely poetic fog, or sacrifice them for clumsy rhymes or sibilant sounds, and it’s refreshing to hear a band attack a wide range of specifically British issues, tropes and traditions with humour and incisiveness. For all their passion, the Left never forget to entertain.
So having identified FOTL as the band of choice for the proud Welsh kid-with-a-conscience, just on the strength of the song-titles alone, how good a delivery system is their music? Well naturally the sound of 70s and 80s American punk is a familiar touchstone, with riffs as direct and unfussy as their lyrics, meaning Future of the Left come at us with spiky, garage sounding guitars, tight simple drumming that hits hard and vocals seemingly mediated through a loud-hailer. A perfect marriage of sound with intent, in other words, with music as direct and unencumbered with bells and whistles as the crusading words they accompany.
This is genuinely exhausting music, with little let up and as ideal for pogoing at home as out with the guys at a Newport dive. And while some listeners may consider the sentiments conveyed a little too on-the-nose, prefering the musical succour of the traditonal boy-meets-girl jangling indie tune, well they’re pretty well-served by the masses of identikit troubadour products out there. This is music for all those who require a call to arms in their life, for those who want to believe that they aren’t just killjoys for not clapping along with the rest of the crowd while the evidence of their eyes tells them that crossing their fingers is never going to be enough.
Future of the Left’s melodious outrage make them a brutish little brother of the more approachable 80s outfit the Housemartins who, unfortunately, will always be remembered for their acapella joke Christmas No.1, and a cousin to the charmless Chumbawumba whose irony-laden drinking anthem ‘Tubthumping’ will be sailing over the sozzled heads of many a packed dancefloor this holiday season. So Future of the Left’s forbears seem to prove that however desirable the wrapping, the message will either be ignored or twisted into a paean to its enemy. But if ultimately it is not cool to care. The Left – with this bile-fuelled platter – will make you forget this salient fact, if only for Plot‘s three-quarters of an hour running time. A battle won then, hopefully sigifying that the war’s outcome is ultimately still in doubt. And while giving an album like this an award may be in opposition to the outsider stance of the band, one can only hope that it brings more people to this serated, aggressive music, and ultimately to their rabble-rousing, plain-spoken views.