Foals are a band that seem to be right up my street. A distinctive sound? Check. A contemporary approach to indie and rock? Yep. A couple of good songs under their belt? Yeah sure, I’m not crazy about Inhaler or Spanish Sahara but y’know, they’re pretty good songs. I also admire a band with a commitment to an album cover scheme; it’s the little things. But does What Went Down blow my mind? Does it demand to be played on loop for the foreseeable future? Does it make Foals my new favourite band? No. It doesn’t.
The reason for this that I demand a lot of bands, of musicians. I want catchy hooks, fantastic performances, inspiring arrangements, great production. But nothing on What Went Down, not one single track, fulfills any of this criteria.
In fairness, the first two tracks are decent, but the album peaks early, leaving nothing but a steep mountain range to tumble down. And even then, Mountain At My Gates isn’t a particularly catchy, memorable song. There’s a satisfying build to the track, a good bubbling sense of disquiet, but no hook, no riff or melodic phrase that clings to the mind. But at least this track has some decent lyrical input, something which I’m afraid is seldom repeated for the remainder of the track-listing.
Like so many other bands, Foals fall into the trap of rhyming ‘older’ with ‘colder’ on A Knife In The Ocean. It really amazes me that this still happens in modern lyrics; do people not realise how predictable a line this is? But the prize for worst attempt at a lyric on this album goes to the track London Thunder where Yannis rhymes ‘disco’ with ‘san francisco’. Quiet incredible really, especially given the way in which this line has nothing to do with the song, it’s almost as if that was the best they could do…
Perhaps I’m nit-picking with regard to the lyrics, but then there’s so little substance in this album to pick at. The production’s typically modern and loud, with limited dynamic range, and sounds just as good as any commercial release in 2015. The performances are fine for what they are, the synths sound natural and non-intrusive, the guitars clean and direct. But the drawback in Foals’ instrumental combination is that it doesn’t have much variety, and as a result there are moments on this album that sound glaringly like previous songs. Elements of London Thunder sound so much like bits in Late Night that I did a double take whilst listening on the go. But worse than this is that when Foals aren’t copy-pasting their own songs, they’re ripping off other people’s; Lonely Hunter’s piano part sounds like it came straight off one of Noel Gallagher’s solo albums, Night Swimmers sounds eerily similar to Breaker 1 off the last Interpol record, and A Knife In The Ocean’s drum pattern is such a blatant homage to When The Levy Breaks by Led Zeppelin that it’s impossible to ignore.
But I could forgive all the issues with this album, all of them, if it weren’t such a bore. Foals exhibit a vaguely distinct sound, but not much else. There’s nothing to grab you, nothing thrilling takes place, and nothing dares to shake up the formulaic drudgery of these songs, never delivers on its promise to even vaguely nudge you towards being interested. It attempts to be urgent and brooding but falls short, which means it’s not exciting enough to be intently listened too, but not mellow enough to have on as background music. This is album is just plain forgettable. It seems that despite big talk, Foals still feel like a band that are still in the infancy of their creative lives.