Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth?

Earnest Brits bring punk out of the past and into the Futureheads

The happiest thing about the Futureheads is that, for British punk rockers, they're really punk rock. Someone shaved the Swell Maps. Someone supercharged the Mekons. Someone finally got the Clash right. And here we are again, with four fierce young guys with exaggerated Sunday-funnies faces; four nice clean shirts sweated black except for the strips of buttons down the front; four glottal voices aligned in choir; four repeats of: "You wasted it/You fell asleep/It was not late/You missed the point!" At City Pages World Headquarters, we have a direct hot phone that connects to Greil Marcus--yeah, it is red; we got it at the surplus store! So we had our (trembling) intern grab that receiver and say, "Tell us: That was what you were talking about when you told us about the Clash? Or the Adverts, at least?"

Because we feel the people have been a bit faked out. The NME, with smug archer's aplomb, handily spiked the Futureheads' self-titled full-length, which was released in the U.S. on Star Time; they called it "extreme Supergrass." (Also acceptable would have been: "The Blur-inals.") Lots of fun, yes: four-part harmonies, calculated (and manic) pop songs that turn themselves inside out, and a Kate Bush cover. But still, there's something so mannered about the U.K., something self-consciously aristocratic in even the slimiest gutter-slutter--maybe the last fadeout of the foppy glam shtick? There was no British Velvet Underground, not even a British Stooges or a British Germs, though the English did get us back because there was no American Wire. But straight down the line to the Libertines today (except for Billy Childish), there's something there that feels so sanctioned.

Ever since the Beatles, the British have known deep down that it's okay to play in a rock 'n' roll band. It's an honorable vocation. It's fun for the whole family. And it kinda takes the edge off. Like, Sir Mick Jagger? It's not like we have Senator Richard Hell over here; the guy was last spotted teaching at a no-name Brooklyn college--in a bad mood! America isn't particularly scared of rock 'n' roll. It just doesn't really pay attention to guitar dudes ever since Straight Outta Compton came out. But at least we don't have to feel so patronized.

So. That's why the Futureheads LP seemed so cute. But now the Futureheads get to play shows. No one has seen them, because they spent their big U.S. tour opening for Franz Ferdinand, and no one goes to see Franz Ferdinand besides college freshmen tired of the second Strokes CD--and the aging NPR listeners drafted into driving them home. But in L.A., the Futureheads escaped der Franz to play a smidgy free club show and what the fuck? It was the Clash! Or better: just the good parts of the Clash! The goofy "Bullshit! Bullshit!" on "Le Garage" turned ferocious. They were calling out the names to everything ("This one's by the Television Personalities! They're quite good, eh?") in case people didn't know. A blonde had one finger crooked around her string of pearls and was cooing at her boyfriend: "It's hard to get an answer if you haven't got a clue!" All the old people felt young: You'd see dudes with ponytails curling unconscious barre-chord forms with their left hands. And all the young people felt old: The idea of really turning all that old dot-com money into something important did CNN-crawls over their eyes. They thought about friends' bands and self-released records and what was that line? Something-something let's take it over!

"Last song," said the Futureheads. "Piece-of-crap-it-was-a-piece-of-crap!" And snap! went the E string; before you could even hear it ring, the guitarist stretched it straight and tossed it back over his shoulder. It didn't even dent the roar, and the band really had sweat their shirts right through, except for the drummer: "He's playing all that crazy shit," someone said, "but he's so nonchalant!" Then he turned to snap open the high-hat clutch and we saw his back, so soaked he was shining.

 
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