Saturday, 10 July 2010

Feeder - Renegades

It's the eternal question for bands deep into a decent career, isn't it? How do you keep going when you've got many miles on the road, years in the studio and record sales racked up and under your belt? Welsh power trio Feeder have been having that exact problem. Hands up who can name any of the great rock anthems Feeder have been responsible for in the last ten-odd years? Buck Rogers, Seven Days In The Sun, Just A Day, Lost And Found, maybe Insomnia and a few others on there as well? Not bad at all for a band who tragically lost their original drummer and dear friend in an unexplained suicide shortly after their breakthrough album was released.

But there is a flip side to all this; Feeder have to also be held accountable for a whole lot of rather tedious dross. I'm sorry, but to my mind, having an album compared to Travis, Keane and Coldplay (2005's Pushing The Senses) is nothing more than panning it as moping, insipid bilge. And here's the frustrating part - we know that band leader and frontman Grant Nicholas is capable of creating great songs, and yet, we are forced to pick out the odd good track here and there from the most recent long players (for example, 'Miss You' from Silent Cry, 'Godzilla' from Comfort in Sound). And before anybody throws the accusation at me that not everything has to be up-tempo and rocking, I do actually like slower, quieter music as well - when done well. Feeder's attempts at such music has, pretty much always, been anodyne and, well, dreary.

After 2008's Silent Cry, Feeder could have slowly crested over the hill into retirement or something else. Their UK record label, Echo, was dissolved, and interest was waning - it was more a sort of nostalgic look back at previous hits rather than a current, electric buzz. So Feeder decided a novel approach, and it has worked perfectly.

Essentially, they donned a disguise - suddenly, they were Feeder no more, and a new band named Renegades had appeared in their place. They acted like a new band - EPs, small gigs in intimate venues, underground word-of-mouth promotion - and yet, the people involved were the same people involved with Feeder (aside from new drummer Karl Brazil, but he was a replacement in Feeder for Mark Richardson anyway). What gives?

Simple: Nicholas fancied getting back to their roots, taking things full circle, back to where they began in the '90s with the Swim mini-album and the excellent debut LP Polythene. Which means that rock is back on the agenda - the piano has been retired to a dusty corner of the studio, and the amps are being turned up to 11. No more moping, no more sorrow, time to have some fun. Bring it on.

And so we arrive at Renegades, the album. You can tell from the cover - a topless, balaclava-ed woman holding a battered skateboard - that this will have a little more of an edge to it than previous efforts. In fact, if the band are trying to rediscover their roots, then they do a damn decent fist of it just in the album artwork itself - it definitely has a feel of a young band starting out rather than a bunch of middle-aged veterans. And this is followed up by the music, which I must say, is excellent.

Opener 'White Lines' is a little bit of a curveball, as it does distinctly sound like something you could hear from the previous albums, but in the context of the album, it makes sense - it works as a book-end to what has come before and a signpost for what to expect across the album. It's not a bad album opener, but give it a minute...then first single 'Call Out' drops, and the album is underway proper.

This album, I'll be honest, absolutely stinks of a band who are really rather enjoying themselves. No longer do sales or the path of their career really matter - how some critics can accuse the band of sounding jaded and old on this I really don't know. Nicholas (for he is the chief songwriter) has used any and every influence that has ever been felt in the band's songs before, from the very start of their career onwards, to intelligently craft 11 very strong songs - an achievement in itself given the notoriously inconsistent nature of their previous output. Nope, the band aren't going through a mid-life crisis at all - just getting themselves down the gym, trimming off the unnecessary flab, and getting back the muscle they used to have years ago.

No, it doesn't sound exactly the same as those early efforts, but then again, tell me a band that can successfully sound the same as they did when they were 20-somethings forever? Bad Religion, perhaps? The Offspring, at a pinch? But even then, the natural process of evolution and growth does play into it. Here, it can be heard in a natural quality control that every song gets filtered through, as well as a myriad of subtle influences that are added into the mix alongside Feeder's own natural grasp on rock 'n' roll. For example, a Kasabian-gone-heavy melody populates 'Godhead', and the title track is a half-decent homage to Green Day, with it's bouncing, pounding beat and barked 'Heys!' in the chorus. The opening riff in 'Call Out' is a dead ringer to the intro riff from the Foo Fighters' 'All My Life', and the crunching verse chords of the excellent 'Left Foot Right' are reminiscent of Apocalyptica's 'Life Burns!'. Throw that in alongside the sound of them delving into their grungy '90s output for inspiration ('Sentimental', parts of 'This Town'), and you have a muscular and outrageously hook-laden combination of great rock 'n' roll.

Despite the change of drummer, the band are still as phenomenally tight as ever, with new boy Brazil pounding the kit with the same lethal precision as his predecessors in the hot seat. Taka Hirose is still solid and unspectacular, but really, the star of the show from this perspective is Nicholas. His lyrics may be still a little hit-and-miss, with the odd cliche cropping up, but when they hit, they hit hard. It's his constant knack for a melody that is the band's main strength, and something that really only comes out on the fast, rockier numbers - having said that, the album's one slow-burner, 'Down To The River' is pretty decent, helped by the occasional raucous bursts of drop-D riffage. But really, this album is all about energy, and lots of it. It's not reinventing the wheel, and certainly isn't anything radical - it's essentially what Feeder have been doing the past few years off and on. Now though, they've shunned the pretensions of being the next Travis, and in the process, whilst not quite sounding like teenagers again, they do sound energised, powerful, and, dare I say it, a lot of fun. And funnily enough, the fact that it isn't a tremendously radical sounding record may be an advantage - as many UK guitar bands desperately try to cram smart-arse lyrics and as many pointlessly twiddly leads into their songs as possible, the combination of relatively simple, energetic, outrageously catchy and well-crafted songs on this LP may be just the breath of fresh air rock 'n' roll fans are looking for. For now, it's taking pride of place as my current album of the summer and possibly one of the very best and most consistent albums Feeder have yet produced in their career.

Album Details
Label: Big Teeth Music
Release Date: 5th July 2010
Rating: 8/10
Standout Tracks: 'Call Out', 'Renegades', 'Home', 'Left Foot Right'.

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