Future of the Left

Travels With Myself and Another

(Beggars USA; 2009)

By David M. Goldstein | 10 July 2009

Mclusky were sort of the Vincent Van Gogh of skull-crushing, Albini-produced indie-rawk, criminally underappreciated in life, endlessly lauded in death. Or at least in North America anyway; the kids at the London Mclusky show I witnessed in 2004 (coincidentally, their last) were amped to the point where you’d have thought they were witnessing the Beatles. The band’s dissolution in January of 2005 was notoriously acrimonious, but at least promised the prospect of future projects, with the smart money being placed on perpetually irritable guitarist Andy Falkous, mostly because he was the frontman but also because he stated in a farewell address on Mclusky’s website that in this divorce he was keeping the fuzz pedals.

Then Future of the Left’s 2007 debut Curses completely (and unsurprisingly) ruled, arguably a better record than 2004 Mclusky swan song The Difference Between You and Me Is That I’m Not on Fire, even earning the second-most coveted #2 spot on this here site’s 2007 year end list. Most of it was indistinguishable from Falkous’s prior outfit (the only lineup difference being new bass player Kelson Mathias), but Curses managed to maintain nearly everything that made Mclusky great without sounding like a rehash, namely: scuzz bomb aplomb or songs purposely designed to turn their backs on the listener and always titled to be the backhanded compliment of an asshole (e.g. “Fuck the Countryside Alliance,” “adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood”). Asshole being Falco, retaining all of the vitriol from his prior band, positing himself as the ultimate drinking buddy, if not exactly someone you’d want to introduce to your sister.

But Curses didn’t sell, something Falkous at least partially attributed to illegal file sharing, as witnessed in his absolutely venomous rants on Future of the Left’s Myspace blog. Their stateside touring schedule was downright bizarre, consisting of virtually zero headlining shows but finding them at the very bottom of bills containing bands like Against Me! and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, pop-punk outfits (of differing degrees) for which Mclusky’s fanbase should have no use. I strain to imagine the band actually enjoying this, let alone tolerating it. Whether this was simply a curious move on the part of their management or a plea for wider acceptance, now we have Travels With Myself and Another, and it feels like a concession. Future of the Left’s second album should be better than this.

Something’s a touch awry only one minute into “Arming Eritrea.” It starts promisingly enough, with typical Falco ranting against a “Rick!” (Rubin? Astley?) in between pummeling bass licks. But then the guitar kicks in, and we get a shockingly predictable (for lesser bands, anyway) down stroke build-up that ranks among the most clichéd things these guys have ever done. It doesn’t help that the guitar is over-processed, smoothed out, announcing that Travels likely cost more to produce than all three Mclusky records combined. What ever gave the impression that Future of the Left was willing to settle for a late afternoon slot on the Warped Tour? Second track “Chin Music” fares a little better, but still falls on the unfortunate side of the line separating stupid from clever, too aggro for its own good.

This, simply, feels dumbed down. The best Falco numbers seldom plot the shortest distance between points A and B, and though he unquestionably set out to write “songs” from now on, the idea has manifested itself in a series of interchangeable pud-pounders that seem more concerned with being fast than being interesting. The whiplash tempo changes and deft use of subtlety marking FoTL’s best work has been mostly excised in favor of one-plane rock.

What keeps the album periodically OK is that, presentation aside, Travels still contains all the requisite elements of an Andy Falkous document, replete with a handful of gems in its second half. The song titles remain awesome; the lyrics, when you can make them out, are generally still amusing as all get out, like on peak track “Stand By Your Manatee” where little Emma is gravely ashamed because her “mum and dad use plastic forks!” That song, with its sarcastic Beach Boy harmonies, hand claps, and finger-snappin’ bass solo personifies the awesomeness these guys are clearly capable of when they’re on. “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You” barely overcomes its lunkheaded bashing by Falkous questioning, “What kind of orgy leaves / A sense of deeper love?” Likewise, “I Am Civil Service,” somewhat reminiscent of Curses track “Fingers Become Thumbs,” utters the priceless query, “If I fuck what I eat / And I eat what I fuck / Am I worthy?” “That Damned Fly” and “Yin/Post-Yin” are OK too.

But going back to “I Am Civil Service,” it’s worth noting that Falkous relies a bit too heavily on the F-word within Travels‘s lyrics, a crutch that’s sort of indicative of the album’s shortcomings as a whole. I still have nothing but love for this band, and still hope that Travels With Myself and Another sells a ton of copies, whether or not that might justify their latest direction. No single frontman in indie quite possesses Falkous’s unique blend of obnoxious charisma, and that fact alone makes Travels a sometimes engaging listen, but he’s still made an album that steers dangerously close to emulating the bros he’s spent his entire career railing against.

:: myspace.com/futureoftheleft