Four Letter Word are Britain's most endearingly resilient band. Completely oblivious to the winds of cultural change, Welly and co. have been crafting the music they want to make for nearly 20 years despite suffering numerous lineup shifts, label changes and even a major label lawsuit. Follow as the Crow Flies is the result of decades spent fine-tuning their sound. It is a concise effort that plays to their strengths and goes straight for the throat, rarely letting up throughout its half-hour running time.
"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" offers a two-finger salute to the fickle nature of scene trends, chastising "the gutless haters, whisperers, the overstaters," stating that the band "never was, has been, scenester-seeking peer approval" before inviting the listener to "raise a glass to their shallow lives." Jon Butler, the band's newly returned original guitarist, provides a great squalling guitar solo over the bridge. Elsewhere, "The Claw" targets domestic abuse, singing from the perspective of the deluded perpetrator. Welly's guttural roar gives the song an extra edge of menace as he intones "I laugh as you weep, now you're in too deep...the claw, the claw in the velvet glove." "Breakthrough Song" satirizes the major label gauntlet that far too many bands seem to force their way through. The slow-burning intensity evokes classic Leatherface, while the blithely sarcastic lyrics are uniquely Four Letter Word. A lot of my favourite bands have fallen prey to the pitfalls described, including "we respect our loyal fanbase but it's franchise rights or bust," "we'll plan our comeback album...we're going through the motions but it sounds just like the first," as well as reducing fans to "apathetic record collectors." However, the band allow some light to shine in with the Circle Jerks-referencing "Kids Against the Wall"--the message of positive empowerment through music is clichéd, but it is pulled off with just enough passion and pathos. The final verse will likely ring true with a lot of listeners: "In this place where I hide, there's only room for one inside...it's full of music, it's full of heart, it's full of hope and that's a start."
Musically, the band are on top form throughout. Glenn Tew's quick-fire drumming invites immediate comparisons with Satanic Surfers or Brooks Wackerman-era Bad Religion, ensuring the band keep to a no-nonsense, fast tempo throughout. This is most apparent on "Unfinished Symphonies," which, at full pelt, sounds like a condensed Strike Anywhere. Special mention must be given to album closer "Street Where I Grew Up," a bittersweet memoir that sounds unlike anything else I've heard by Four Letter Word. Opening with Welly singing over a lonesome acoustic guitar, the music gradually builds in intensity as he recounts "rejection hit[ting] the gut like the bully's punch" and "dodging wild dogs climbing up crown hill." It's a true watershed moment that shows the band stepping out of their comfort zone and coming out with beautiful, world-weary music.
Lovingly produced by Frankie Stubbs (of Leatherface fame), Follow as the Crow Flies is another superb record from a band that's always been a little too rough, honest and, well, good for the mainstream to ever catch up with. The last two lines from "A Chink in the Armour" sum up Four Letter Word's pioneering spirit far better than I ever could:
"We still feel the warmth from those distant embers.
An idea's never lost as long as someone remembers."