Really, it’s a two horse race to become the UK’s premiere rock band between Muse and Foals. The former may have had a longer career that includes experimenting/meandering into other genres, but Foals have gone from strength to strength. ‘What Went Down’ isn’t likely to be as popular as 2013’s ‘Holy Fire’ and its ubiquitous single My Number, but it sees the band continue to refine their sound with supreme confidence – even if they seem to stoically stick within their own boundaries.
If anything, ‘What Went Down’ is a more subdued offering than before, melding the differing styles of their pop efforts and their sumptuous ballads. In many ways it’s an attempt to recapture the magic of Spanish Sahara, a track that continues to represent the band at their peak. This album unveils a softer side to the band, one that’s often drenched in melancholy. Tracks like Mountain At My Gate, Birch Tree and London Thunder pair evocative guitars with sad melodies sung in a lighter timbre than we’re used to from frontman Yannis Philippakis (ironically the band recently cancelled a Live Lounge session after he injured his vocals). Give It All, meanwhile, sees the band succumbing fully to ambiance as it shimmers, mourns and crescendos.
Don’t worry, though, Foals haven’t suddenly turned into Coldplay. The guitars may have been dampened a little, but their spirit hasn’t. Really, this is a compendium of the varying styles of their past three albums. Amongst the downbeat ‘Total Life Forever’ esque tracks, the title track opens the album in a forceful blaze of ‘Holy Fire’; Albatross is a stadium-ready epic; Snake Oil is reminiscent of the spikier sound of their debut ‘Antidotes’; and Mountain At My Gates and Night Swimmers are the closest this album gets to radio-friendly pop rock with their jangling guitars, funk influenced bass and subtle electronics. You get the sense overall that the band are looking backwards rather than forwards, and much of the lyrical content follows this reflective theme (Lonely Hunter especially).
For the most part, though, this isn’t a radio-friendly album (unless you’re planning on listening to Radio X) to send the band stratospheric in the same way as ‘Holy Fire’. Instead it’s a sombre album that sees the band consolidating their sound and regrouping, whilst still proving their dominance. If tracks like What Went Down, Mountain At My Gates and Give It All prove anything, it’s that Foals are perfectly capable of pleasing a whole host of fans, be it with heavy rock, crowd-pleasing pop, or emotive atmospherics. ‘What Went Down’ isn’t quite a classic, but its tracks will settle very neatly within the band’s live set – someone give them a Glastonbury headline slot immediately.
* What Went Down
* Give It All
* Night Swimmers
Listen: ‘What Went Down’ is available now.