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The Future Is Medieval
Unlikely lads from Leeds 'do a Radiohead' of sorts
Craig Fitzpatrick, 29 Jun 2011
This just might be a first. An album review of something that is decidedly not an album. Those leading lights of the nu-brit-pop brigade (yes, that was a scene) have opted, for outing number five, to make 20 tracks available to the listening public. You sample each online then choose your favourite 10. It’s all very interactive and 2011, an attempt to one-up the likes of Radiohead and Ash. But... is this A) a cynical attempt to double-charge fans and regain the spotlight after diminishing recent returns, B) a genuine step forward, or C) the actions of a band that can’t decide on their best songs? It certainly devalues the format. Imagine if Van had opened Astral Weeks up to the floor. Let’s deftly side-step that philosophical minefield, however, and focus on the music.
What we find is the Chiefs shedding their cheeky-chappy ways for a more mature path. Firstly, there are no obvious singles. Oh, what larks! The quintessential singles band give up on the concept of traditional albums and promptly produce a bunch of album tracks. Regardless of that conundrum, this might be their finest work yet (though listening to the entire 20 is a bit of a slog). There are no successful, idiot savant terrace anthems, with the songs that do replicate that formula sounding relatively stale. ‘Little Shocks’ is a decent stab at a first single but sounds like a middle-aged ‘Oh My God’. ‘Child Of Jago’ is an improvement, creeping in like an identikit ‘I Predict A Riot’ but ending up sounding like that prediction proved true. It’s bleak and post-apocalyptic, perfectly setting the tone for the sessions.
The Future Is Medieval is essentially latter-day Specials stripped of the ska – poppy but perturbed, a raincloud hanging over proceedings. They’ve added an electronic aesthetic and awkwardness, referencing both The Human League and Low-era Bowie, without losing their knack for a tune. By way of undermining the entire project, however, there will indeed be a physical release of 12 songs in due course. The official tracklisting hangs together neatly and closes on a high with ‘If You Will Have Me’. Sung by songwriter Nick Hodgson, it is perhaps the most beautiful moment in the band’s canon, his fragile, untrained vocals plucking heartstrings in a way Ricky Wilson cannot.