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Future Of The Left
Polymers Are Forever John Calvert , November 7th, 2011 10:51

I once saw Future Of The Left play a drizzly afternoon slot in Belfast city centre, to the casual indifference of some Mogwai fans, a sleeping vagrant, and a man who I suspected was lost. Surveying the miserable turnout, Andy Falkous wheezed from the side of his mouth and declared: "In the words of the great Bill Hicks, I've fucked more people than this."

Like all the best punks, Andy 'Falko' Falkous has a keen eye for absurdity. Indeed, his music is teeming with it. So chances are, the absurdity of his career trajectory thus far - a tale of heartbreak and missed opportunity and the complete neglect of not one, but two utterly brilliant bands - isn't lost on the Welshman. Needless to say, FOTL played a great set that day in 2006 - suffocatingly avid yet attuned to the pantomime ironies of punk performance. Rolling out rabid little sketches of surrealist satire - truly British music bent on putting idiocy on the dock - Falkous slayed, as did drummer Jack Eggleston. Meanwhile Kelson Mathias, as he was often given to doing, ran around with his pants down, while in apology for his absent countrymen a lone superfan laughed way harder than the sight of Mathias' bare ass merited. And all the while, the rain continued apace.

Here they are again, facing down Belfast's empty stalls, gearing up for album number three as a brand-spanking new fourpiece, after the addition of second guitarist Jimmy Watkins. With their frontman nearing a stately 40 years of age, this January's The Plot Against Common Sense may be the last chance to catch the Atrocity Exhibition FOTL make out of Britain's banally evil trash apocalypse, survived only by Facebook, the X-Factor and David Cameron. Or whatever the hell the Devil calls himself. Before the curtains part, however, here's a six-track pre-show to get the blood going. How does it auger for the main event?

Taken from the album sessions, the organ-bolstered 'Polymers Are Forever' combines classic FOTL with a worrying tendency for grandiosity which was emerging on Travels...; a stylistic development which, along with an increasing funk elasticity, is a far cry from Falkous's efficiently cutting Mclusky. Consequently, after a typically venomous intro, instead of erupting into whirling speed, 'Polymers' both slows and soars. It's tuneful, sure, but frustratingly pillowy by FOTL's standards. This is how it started for Biffy Clyro - next thing you know they're hawking strings-laden blustery shit with a neckless X-Factor winner. Lyrically, however FOTL are right on course, carving out a loose portrait of linoleum-carpeted Brit culture, with more than a little Rita, Sue and Bob Too about it.

With more gameshow organ and less pomp, the reckless 'Emily' hints at a back-to-basics direction for the LP. At under two minutes, it's a cross between a No Age quickie and a Curses B-side, and further proof that FOTL are never better than when Falkous is screaming himself hoarse. Then on the wry 'New Adventures', the frontman mounts a signature ode to spiritually bankrupt suburbia, imparting lines like "He loved a racist once, she kept a tidy house" over chirpily polka synths. When Thom Yorke does it, it reeks of art-school condescension, but Falkous writes as one of us stiffs.

After the slow-burning 'My Wife' normal service resumes with the clobbering third act, which features two of the hardest tracks the band have written since Curses. Distorted by noxious production, the shredding 'Dry Hate' is as lo-fi as FOTL get. Through a tannoy, Falkous warns the ruling classes that hatred cannot be suppressed, grimacing "Do you feel the carpet slipping, motherfuckers?". Screeching guitars rise up at a killer slant, and underfoot ex-Million Dead bassist Julia Ruzicka lays down some psychobilly lines. "Jesus loves a renegade" thunders the frontman.

Last comes 'Destroywhitchurch', conceivably the closest the Welshmen have come to doing prog rock. Taking in Gang Of Four, The Tornadoes, Iron Maiden, Mudhoney and a truly unhinged refrain, it works through various phases before finishing with a coda of nimbly intertwined guitar. And so ends a beginners' course in FOTL Version 3.0, all-in-all a promising preamble to the real deal. Can they deliver on next year's LP? The forecast is for thunder and lightning.