With Idlewild now out of the picture, it's time for another band to step up and claim the award for "most promising band stuck on auto-pilot". Something The Futureheads seem more than happy to do.
Now freed from the supposed constraints of record label politics (they've self-released their last two albums), one would imagine that this would free up the band to take artistic leaps and explore the more a-commercial aspects of their creative juices. Alas, go to any track on The Chaos and you're greeted with a cheerily serviceable drum-beat, a speedy strum of distorted guitar chords and Barry Hyde's familiar staccato vocal style.
The beauty of the band's début was firstly, that it always felt like it was a band riding by the seat of their pants. "Decent Days and Nights" displayed an admirable catchiness while always sounding like it was about to collapse on itself. "First Job" had immense fun with the very idea by daring the band every verse to notch up the speed. Then there were the immense moments of Barbershop-inspired vocal flourishes which gave the band a timeless quality, transcending the demands of pop music while simultaneously ticking all the boxes of pop music.
Cut to album number four and it's a struggle to find any of these elements. So finely-tuned is their delivery that all the human elements which made the band great have long-since deceased. You've got the likes of "Stop the Noise" to turn to for example. Hyde's great experiment here is the occasional dalliance with atonal vocals and infrequent bars rendered in an undertone. The chorus line is of course delivered in the usual cheery manner. True, the second act breakdown and build-up is zany, but it does little besides contrasting the tuneful chorus when it re-emerges once more.
Spiky riffs generally introduce each track. "Heatbeat Song" undoubtedly has one of the stronger of these. Yet its still a one-trick pony with a very bad meta-joke thrown in for (good) measure ("We're singing out-of-tune, but I still want to sing with you") and frankly, it steals all of its recommendable elements from other superior Futureheads tracks.
Much like the experience of spending hours thumbing through the merchandise at a record shop though, there is one cut-price bargain to be found and its name is "The Connector". Seemingly set atop Mt. Kilimanjaro as the band prepare a human sacrifice to the god Ra to quell the anger of the volcanic gods. (Chucking people into volcanoes wouldn't have become so prevalent if it didn't work. Think about it.) Suffice to say, it's delightfully and refreshingly bonkers. Sadly, it's also a feat never repeated.
Perhaps the band are adverse to change, since their second "more mature" album News And Tributes effectively ended their mainstream career, but until the band are willing to take those kinds of risks again, they'll be flying aimlessly around the skies until they run out of fuel.