General Fiasco - Buildings

An easily accessible record that has great replay value and depth.

Label: Infectious

Rating: 8

Perhaps the most heartening thing about General Fiasco’s plans for the future, is that they actually have some. The Belfast trio have said that they realise what they do (i.e. typically Northern pop-punk) has a limited lifespan. They don’t want to become like, say, Ash, who have become stuck in a creative rut, and, in our opinion, started ‘The A-Z Singles Collection’ only as a front to mask this rut: by implementing a new marketing strategy (that seemed like a good idea at the time), they have tried to cover up the fact that they are now, at best, a parody of themselves. General Fiasco: Well, to paraphrase ‘Buildings’ lead single, the raucous burst of energy that is ‘We Are The Foolish’, it’s good that they woke up, because this was the thing they needed to know.

However, as we are all aware, a band simply stating that they intend to stick around is only half the battle: you have to have the songs to back it up. On the evidence of their debut, should we be hearing more from the three-piece in future? Yes. A resounding yes. The band aren’t exactly ripping up the rulebook, as said, but they are quite simply excellent at what they do.

A word of warning, though: while the band’s sound is certainly catchy and accessible, ‘Buildings’ is definitely not all sunshine and roses. In point of fact, the album is actually rather bleak. The band have grown up in Belfast, and it’s clear they don’t like what they see around them. The youth culture that influenced them is lulling young people into a false state of security (‘The young are bold: it’s all they’ve got’ - ‘We Are The Foolish’); the youth themselves are turning to alcohol to cope with their insecurities (‘Let’s get wasted, it’s all we ever do’ - recent single ‘Ever So Shy’); they have issues with personal confidence (‘I’m just a ghost / My mouth has let me down again’ - ‘Please Take Your Time’), and romantic confidence (the central theme of the stunning, strings-drenched title track, the album’s seven-minute centrepiece)…

‘Buildings’ becomes quite an unsettling listen as more of its sentiments reveal themselves. Because the topics discussed here are so universal, they have extra resonance. But nothing even comes close to the truly devastating ‘Sinking Ships’. Driven by a simple acoustic riff, and supported by Stephen Leacock’s effective drumming, frontman Owen Strathern views life from the perspective of a broken, suicidal young person: ‘I’m a waste of skin / I will take almost anything / I will leave myself a length of rope, and then I’ll go / …There’s no point in trying / Seems like we’ll all end up dying, the same way that everybody does’. These lines are delivered with such fragility that it is hard not to be swept up in the rush of emotion that comes when the strings enter and the song reaches its climax. The song, the band’s best to date, fades with a last, poignant chord, its desolation and despair making it ‘Buildings’ dark heart.

It may seem that there is not a single bit of light to be had here, but that’s not necessarily the case. Towards the album’s finish, things start to take a turn for the better. Debut single ‘Rebel Get By’ starts the climb upwards from the hopelessness of ‘Sinking Ships’, though to say it is in complete contrast to its predecessor in terms of sentiment would be to lie. For every line like, ‘All the things you’d like to be, maybe they’re all ahead of you’, we get an, ‘Everyone shouting, ‘Please don’t kill yourself!”

The clearest piece of optimism ‘Buildings’ has to offer comes after the ace in the pack, the Bloc Party-esque ‘Talk To My Friends’ (Enda, take a bow) has talked of the possibility of a fresh start, somewhere else. Even though the bass-led ‘Dancing With Girls’ (featuring a fine performance indeed from Owen) deals with a person who just can’t make up their mind about what they want to do in life (‘You set your plan, and you liked it / You’re coming over, changing it all around’), its bridge reveals that there might just be hope after all: ‘I know this is gonna change for good / Because these things, they seem to work the way they should’.

The album’s closer ‘First Impressions’ is the light at the end of the tunnel. Just the right kind of release after a dark and troubled half-hour. Even though the song concerns itself with people who have nothing of interest to say (‘On the inside, you’re pretty vacant / Your eyes are open, your mouth is making a sound’), there is just a smattering of sarcastic wit in there too: ‘You said that twice now, in case I didn’t hear / I heard it, and I don’t care - I thought that might be clear’.

Ending their unsettling debut record on a positive note was a great move. General Fiasco, after everything, are smiling through the tears. Having written an album full of brilliant pop tracks, but left so much substance underneath their sheen, the trio have pulled off that most difficult of things. They have created an easily accessible record that has great replay value and depth. Also, crucially, it really does feel as though these Belfast boys have made the best album they could. And we couldn’t ask for more than that.