Like a kid pointing to a fresh pencil mark on the height chart, the Futureheads are eagerly showing off their newfound maturity two years after their hyperactive debut. In this case, maturity means straight-faced lyrics and laid-back tempos. Here and there the band retain the breathless momentum that won over cynics and XTC fans in 2004. Occasional ragers like "Cope" still burn with the self-righteous indignation of a teenager scorned. "How dare you?" spits Barry Hyde, his bandmates dropping everything to deliver those sharp yet short-lived four-part harmonies.
But elsewhere on News, the band has ditched most of their urgency and all of their playfulness. Lead single "Skip to the End" looks for a relationship-terminating shortcut that would bypass heartache, and offers a chorus of "Na na na na na na" like a sigh of resignation. The title track somberly recounts the plane crash that killed eight members of the 1958 Manchester United team. No band can (or should) write chipper tunes about robots forever, but it's not just the subject matter that weighs News down. Listening to the back half of the album is something like stepping onto an escalator that's been turned off. Without that extra oomph you've come to expect, climbing the stairs feels undeservedly tedious. As "Thursday" plods along, a lyric from the first album springs to mind: "It is a shame/It is a pity/When you can't raise the energy to get from A to B." Though closing in on a time when their skill will overtake the need for velocity, that day is still a pencil mark away.
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