The acknowledgement of the auteur is a readily available notion in the arena of film; however, artists such as Andrew Falkous deserve equal consideration, and their work to be viewed in the context of a continuing case study in creative genius. As Future of the Left, The Plot Against Common Sense is Falkous and Jack Egglestone’s first album alongside legendary #punx Julia Ruzicka and Jimmy Watkins. I cannot applaud this lineup adjustment with greater enthusiasm. Ruzicka is best known for her work alongside Frank Turner in Million Dead, giving her ample credibility in the realm of (hardcore) punk; meanwhile, Watkins is now easily the most engaging and accessible member of the group. His stage antics rival the memorability of the band itself, and his character is a great addition to a highly esteemed ensemble.
While the laypunks may wince when hearing Russell Brand referenced, I cannot adequately describe the euphoria experienced in the revelation that considers Brand a caveman. I mean, isn’t he? Or perhaps it’s a juxtaposition mocking Brand for lacking any worthwhile contribution to society or the humanities--all while the public reveres him. I don’t want to read between every lyric publicly, nor explain the brilliance inherent to them, but, this is only because it would take the fun out of the future listener’s discovery--like the circular and symbolic subtleties in JJ Abrams’ LOST. This album can be dissected and discussed at great lengths academically, philosophically, musically and lyrically. In addition, it will take a well-tuned mind to make all of the connections in the contexts of history, youth culture, society, news media, art, philosophy and pop culture, and the connotations that arise in the intermingling of these notions (and other varying abstract concepts).
Thematic elements of futurism, science fiction and physics play out to saturate the album. In "Cosmo’s Ladder," Falkous sings, “Cosmopolitan says 'Don’t go upstairs / Gravity keeps you young'"and twists together varying degrees of science, misinformation, media and culture, all with his signature perspective, “I have seen into the future / Everyone is slightly older / First you’re fat and then you shrink / Into a common sense / I have been on television / In principle if not reality / Truth applies in both dimensions.”
Falkous damns consumer culture throughout "Rubber Animals," with the phrasing “At least you would if anyone could ever go outside no, you can't / No, you can't move your market to your manufacturing base / Your customers would not be happy / We like to think that they live in a different world / We're right in ways we can't imagine.” This line ought to be passé, but perhaps that idea, itself, is a greater commentary about sustained capitalism. Falkous can possibly be imagined here shaking his head in disgust over an ironic lack of universal empathy towards the world in which from our goods arrive.
"Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop," which might bode well on a split with Touché Amoré, offers more wonderful social commentary, “Pirates of the Caribbean 47 / Johnny Depp stars as the robot pirate / Who (loses) his wife in a game of poker / And tries to win her back with hilarious consequences.” The depth of his social commentary on this album truly shines in his generationally self-effacing account during “Sorry Dad, I Was Late For the Riots,” where he eloquently delivers his coined viewpoint, acknowledging “I know your father disapproved of Che Guevera / Kept his whistle whiter than a racist at a swimming pool,” then disparages Millennials who are victim to a money-washed malaise, “I’m aware of the irony / But you know / My trust fund runs til 2025 / No matter what I do.” Absolute genius.
It’s not that Falkous is playing an academic role--high browing the everyday listener while wearing a chip on his shoulder--it’s that he’s creating a conversation that incorporates an infinite and expansive index of the information age, discussing its varying degrees of influence in the wake of the cultural ramifications pursuant to the way in which we live. While some brainy-type punk bands drive people off with big words, they truly drive people away by pretending to be smarter than everyone. Falkous is smarter than everyone, but he doesn’t flaunt it, and even if this exercise is such, he isn’t advertising a false product. Ultimately, if afraid of the intellectual prospects of The Plot Against Common Sense, there are a million other albums that lack nuance and heightened perception made specifically for the frightened.
Falkous’ pen wields a foresight into modernity that collectively may not be realized for years. His technique is best exhibited in "Polymers Are Forever," where his performance rivals that of an undead amalgamation of the Faint’s Todd Fink and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler. Although often tongue-in-cheek and cynical, one can’t help but to wonder if lines like “Show me your raincloud / Bring it inside / Make it eternal / Make it exist” are blatant praise to figures he reveres, possibly referencing Berndnaut Smilde’s renowned floating cloud installation “Nimbus."
Those looking for a familiar ferocity reminiscent of 2009’s critically acclaimed Travels With Myself And Another will find solace in tracks like "Sheena Is a T-Shirt Salesman" and "A Guide to Men," which acts as a thesis to the album. Despite the increased reliance on digital technology, a fierce attribute is prevalent, and through the electric foray of "Failed Olympic Bid," you can hear the spit flying from Falkous’ mouth. He doesn’t spare his famed theatrics, either, which run rampant throughout the album. Falkous assumes would be characters, aberrations of his own ego and an array of his emotional states to deliver an enriching performance. He screams, prods, quotes and questions, all in a bombastic styling that seemingly peels away layers of his personality like an onion. Future of the Left also adventure in style; in "City of Exploded Children," the sonic nature of Celtic culture is explored through the use of chants and bagpipes. The use of synthesizers, digital effects and digital manipulation also play a role in this tonal evolution of Future of the Left.
Falkous’ vocal range includes the screams and wails longtime listeners are accustomed to hearing, yet he introduces a new cast of personalities, which include singing styles in the vein of Elvis Presley and Jello Biafra ("Camp Cappuccino," "Notes On Achieving Orbit"), in addition to aforementioned contemporaries. Although some apparent emulations, Falkous sounds more like Falkous than ever, as does Future of the Left. The songs are explosive, powerful and technical, and continue to transcend the contemporary constructs of music, all without the need to prove their prowess. This is a comfortable album, one that exhibits self-certainty and incredible might. Seasoned fans will also enjoy the abundance of the staccato-paced pulsating rhythms that are intrinsic to musical stylings characteristic of Future of the Left.
Unfortunately, as proved evident in recent criticism, this high functioning narrative must be a necessary point to make; that the listener is responsible to digest the content, that this isn’t a soupy concoction of nutrient hastily injected into the body. What fails in the album’s aesthetic corruptions are reclaimed by the cleverness of the context, and the idea that Falkous is gleefully sitting back and laughing at the world as it attempts to unravel his most complicated and progressive work to date lingers. This idea may have motivated him to recently manifest his anger via his blog--eschewing a particular review of the album. The equivalent would be Ernő Rubik giving his new invention to an ignorant friend, who, frustrated at the complexity of the creation, never bothers trying to solve it, placing the toy idly on a shelf, never to grasp the fun at hand.
However, Falkous’s assertion that Sean Magee did a “really good job” mastering the album is questionable. The inconsistency and intermittent degradation of volume and equalization, particularly on "Goals in Slow Motion," "I Am the Least of Your Problems" and "Anchor," is an obvious shortfall of the album’s continuity. The only sensible explanation for these irregularities could be that these songs were separately recorded and incorporated into this album due to a sentimental attachment, or something inadvertent happened during mix down. At the time of publication, without access to these recording notes, nor intimate knowledge of production, this question loiters as an incoherent mystery. After all, the burned out sound of those tracks may be completely deliberate. Or it could be the unofficial nature in which the album was obtained.
In other regards to production quality, some tracks are burdened with mid-tones, creating a muddy and sludgy sound that doesn’t personally come across as exceptional aesthetic competence. This could also be attributed to the group’s incessant clamor for wet fuzz, buzz, and crunch, but inevitably detracts from the dynamics of some tracks. Most apparent on “Beneath the Waves an Ocean,” this effect doesn’t ruin the songs overall, but ought to be noted in order to affirm hesitation in considering this album glossy or over-produced by any stretch of the imagination; outside of it being recorded at the illustrious BBC Studios in London.
Despite the varying degrees of acclaim, Falkous remains content like a persevering, world-class brew master. After executing his secret recipe, he reassures the world that after fermentation, his product will alter the way in which we view our palettes. During my second listen, I decided that his confidence is founded. After 10 listens, I have no problem with proclaiming this as absolute genius, and am certain that with 50 more listens, this album’s true intelligence will actually come to fruition.
Within music, recognition is due for the auteur--someone with unique perspective whose work ought to supersede the normal conventions of criticism and listenability. While failing to attain incredible wealth or mass appeal, certain individuals are on par with, if not superior to those of mainstream success. Future of the Left’s Andrew Falkous is an ostensible member of this sort of standing, as are his cohorts. This album is an effort that essentially throws everything against the wall, and, although not everything sticks, what falls to the ground is still worth picking through. Previous breakout work had put Future of the Left’s relevancy on the line, but this work simply sustains that relevancy.
Although this album lacks the same urgency of Travels With Myself and Another, to quote Andrew Falkous, “[it’s] self-evidently better, and if people don’t think that, then they’re a cunt.” Those looking for Danielle Steel won't find solace in Fyodor Dostoyevsky; and if that simple wit doesn’t make much sense, as a conspirator, not much will throughout Future of the Left’s The Plot Against Common Sense.