With Funeral For A Friend, ‘Juneau’ and ‘She Drove Me To Daytime Television’ usually crop up and this tips to early noughties nostalgia.
It’s no surprise really when we look back and remember the impact that the band’s first album ‘Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation’ had. Many have claimed that it highly influenced many post hardcore bands who followed and even those who have broken through in more recent years. 6 albums later and the Bridgend band’s sound has traversed back to that of their earlier work on their later albums ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’ and this years ‘Conduit’.
This week we have something a little different. It’s our usual “Versus” feature, but Ollie Connors discusses why he thinks we need to let go of ‘Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation’ whilst James Berclaz-Lewis promotes the sound of ‘Welcome Home Armageddon.’
Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation (by Ollie Connors)
In the economic situation we find ourselves in, with bands getting hit harder and harder by recession and plummeting sales, nostalgia, it seems, is now a valued commodity. Left, right and centre, bands of our youth are announcing reunion tours or classic album tours, for those in their mid-20s with available disposable income to relive simpler times – heck, they might even take their little brother/sister and have a brand new fan to buy their records. Just in the past year we’ve had Jimmy Eat World do Clarity/Bleed American back to back, The Starting Line doing Say Like You Mean It, Hundred Reasons doing Ideas Above Our Station, and Finch headlining Brixton Academy on the strength of What It Is To Burn is not far along the horizon. Even Bridgend’s finest Funeral For A Friend have put their ha’penneth worth in, performing the very album I am about to put under the microscope in full in 2010.
I remember the very first time I heard Funeral For A Friend – when I first saw ‘This Year’s Most Open Heartbreak’ on Kerrang! TV (off the Four Ways To Scream Your Name precursor EP to this record), it was quite unlike anything I had ever heard before. Within weeks of that song crashing into my malformed musical consciousness, their faces were on the cover of Kerrang! magazine, bearing the strapline “Britain’s biggest new band”, and from then on the FFAF juggernaut was unstoppable. ‘Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation’ débuted at number 12 in the album chart and eventually reached “Gold” status (100,000 sales), and saw the band catapulted from opening Reading & Leeds’ Concrete Jungle stage in 2003 to headlining its second stage in 2004, alongside supporting bands the calibre of Iron Maiden and Linkin Park in enormo-domes worldwide.
The astonishing success of the first record subsequently became something of a millstone for the band – ‘Hours’ was essentially ‘Casually Dressed’ Mk. II, ’Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’ and ‘Memory And Humanity’ were widely critically panned, and though 2011’s ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’ and the recently released “Conduit” have represented a fantastic return to form for them, they find themselves lumbered with the “nostalgia” tag, unable to shake off the fans who come to their shows hoping to hear a cut like ‘Juneau’ or ‘She Drove Me To Daytime Television’. And that is why, dear reader, this represents a twist on the usual “Versus” feature. You see, as much as I loved ‘Casually Dressed…’in my adolescent years, maybe it might be time to take off the rose-tinted specs.
That’s not to say ‘CD&DIC’ is a bad record – quite the opposite. It’s a very, very good record, a thoroughly accomplished début, a landmark in British post-hardcore – it just doesn’t mean the same things to me now as it did when I was 15. Before I had heard other groups in Funeral For A Friend‘s oeuvre, the likes of Thursday, The Used, Fightstar, the aforementioned Finch and many more besides, the concept of expressing emotion through a screamed vocal was a fairly alien concept, and on this album, vocalist Matthew Davies-Kreye and drummer Ryan Richards compliment each other perfectly. Tracks like ‘Escape Artists Never Die’ pulsate with energy and purpose – not a note is left to waste as the quintet race through a memorable pre-chorus and soaring refrain. At the time of release, this was, in my view, the centerpiece of the record – on revisit, all the accumulated pace and momentum implodes halfway through, and the song is drawn out into a tepid 5 minute+ affair.
There’s nothing like overplay in bad rock clubs to ruin a song for you, so I shan’t even bother to mention ‘Juneau’, but what I guess is the main factor in this album’s steadily diminishing return as time passes is the amount of filler present. Sure, there are some massive anthems here, but for every ‘Bullet Theory’, there’s a ‘Bend Your Arms Back To Look Like Wings’. For every ‘Red Is The New Black’, there’s a ‘Storytelling’. When a band is as hyped as Funeral For A Friend were in those days, especially releasing on a label with the magnitude of Atlantic, the record company must have been baying for a product – with a little more careful consideration and time, this album could’ve been so much more.
There are many aspects to this record that are still eminently enjoyable – despite boasting some abominably trite lyrics, ‘Moments Forever Faded’ is as good as any rumination on a failed relationship. ‘Red Is The New Black’ still bears up as a cautionary tale for those that see themselves pouting on the cover of a glamour magazine, with drummer Richards given the rare chance to share the spotlight, and owns it well. However, the band’s relative inexperience and naïvety becomes apparent on tracks like ‘Your Revolution Is A Joke’, a passive-aggressive rant at the non-effectiveness of the anger of youth in the guise of a pretty acoustic ballad – way to effect a change, Matty. The album ends on another bum note, as ‘Novella’departs on a slow-burning ending that’s a damp squib rather than a bright spark.
This album, heralded as a magnum opus of British rock music, isn’t much more than a band finding their feet and exploring their potential. Whether or not they reached that potential is up to my opponent to decide, but for the band to be laden with the albatross of this record throughout their career, when it is little more than a promising début, is thoroughly unfair. This, along with the aforementioned ‘What It Is To Burn’ never left my CD player in 2003, but, to paraphrase ‘Streetcar’ from this album’s follow-up ‘Hours,’ I can’t feel the same about (it) any more. The Funeral For A Friend of 2013 is an entirely different entity, and not just because only Matt Davies-Kreye and guitarist Kris Coombs-Roberts remain from this era – the band have grown way beyond this album, as (presumably) have you – give the latest album a try, you may well be pleasantly surprised.
Welcome Home Armageddon (by James Berclaz-Lewis)
It is my honest opinion that no band has mastered the art of achieving the delicate balance between hardcore and pop with such a refined potency as Funeral For A Friend have. Many bands have attempted that most dainty of feats yet, more often than not, either sound like heavily-diluted hardcore or artificially steroid-pumped pop. In direct opposition stand Funeral For A Friend and their ability to combine the two and sound like both aspects have developed organically side by side, rather than either being slapped on. In turn, never have those aspects been as successfully deployed as they are on ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’, the band’s fifth album.
Early albums ‘Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation’ and ‘Hours’ are both eminently lovable, in fact they are still (too) much loved, but I strongly feel that those efforts displayed that very discrepancy between the heavy and the hooky that eventually became the bane of post-hardcore bands. They are both packed with riffs and pace, but they seem to function only to underscore the soaring melodies and catchy choruses. With ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’ and ‘Memory & Humanity’ largely continued along that trend, ultimately doing away with a lot of the heavier riffing and introducing a more stream-lined rock sound.
IT WAS TIME FOR A CHANGE. A wind of change that went by the somewhat ominous name of ‘Welcome Home Armageddon’. Deceptively starting things off with the softest of introductions, the album is a breathless succession of passion-driven tracks heavy and catchy as you like, that never sounds as though one needed be compromised for the other. By making their tracks consistently more succinct, FFAF ensured that each track was compact and suitably intense throughout.
‘Old Hymns’ manages to fit full-out punk searing pace, a handful of sweet licks and a huge mid-tempo melodic section finale in two and a half minutes. ‘Broken Foundation’ shows that, even when delivering some of their heaviest material, they still criminally manage to fit some delightfully tasteful clean melodies in. They even slot a guitar solo in there. A SOLO! Even when they do indulge in +3.30 minute tracks, it’s only because there weren’t any boring portions to take out. Infectiously hooky and heavy in equal measure, it is the epitome of consummate screamo, and a fine example of how relevant Funeral For A Friend still are (were?) at that already late point in their career.
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