The issue with double albums is that, even at their best, there’s usually some excess fat to be trimmed. The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ could almost certainly nix ‘Lover’s Rock’; ‘The White Album’ would not be left wanting without ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’; tbh ‘Generation Terrorists’ - Manic Street Preachers’ incendiary, 18-track debut - could probably be sliced by a solid 30% and come out fine.
In order to combat this potential pitfall, when Foals emerged from their latest batch of recording sessions with 20 viable offerings, they decided to divvy them up into two manageable portions. Part 1, of course, landed earlier this year, teed up by quotes from the band that it contained the more expansive, cerebral end of their forthcoming wares; six months later and it’s become the now-quartet’s most acclaimed LP to date, narrowly missing out on the UK Number One spot, earning them a Mercury Prize nod and garnering five-star reviews across the board.
So it’s with no small level of anticipation that we reach the second chapter. The one with the riffs. The one that, in theory, hones in on the visceral, wild-eyed, positive fury that’s become Foals’ calling card: the thing they do better than anyone else right now. And if a double album comes inbuilt with problems, then a two-parter heralds its own even greater weight of expectation. Though the records are ostensibly two sides of the same coin, there’s still the underlying thought in everyone’s minds: that one was good, now do better.
But Foals aren’t fools, and there’s a reason they opted for the order of this particular one-two. Where ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’’s first instalment tackled the confusion of modern life via twitchy tetchiness and moments of elegiac release, on its follow-up they go right down dirty, bracing themselves for the coming apocalypse head-on with monstrous guitars and scorched vocals before bursting into the ether with ‘Neptune’ - a 10-minute, epic finale and the sonic equivalent of that end-days ball of flames. If this all sounds a little theatrical then it’s with reason: from the opening, cinematic instrumental of ‘Red Desert’ - a piece with the tension and build of a big screen epic - Foals have crafted a record imbued with a high-stakes sense of drama. There are no half measures here; from the first howled clarion call of ‘The Runner’, Yannis Philappakis’ vocals are sung at breaking point, while riffs crunch and swagger, embracing the band’s most primal side.
As they made clear with first single ‘Black Bull’ – a rampant rager of a track, as uncompromising and thrillingly dangerous as its spirit animal – there are BIG songs here, just as promised. ‘Like Lightning’ swaggers along with an unusually bluesy strut, like the cocky prowl The Black Keys wish they could still capture even 15% of; ‘Wash Off’ is a mathier, pricklier thing but with an insatiable sense of forward motion and one of those prolonged, circular instrumental builds Yannis and guitarist Jimmy Smith do so well. The payoff is, of course, cathartic as hell.
But not everything here is big by way of being blatant. ‘10,000 Feet’ is atmospheric, moody and bass-driven – more like the kind of spacious epic Pearl Jam might unleash at sunset, while ‘Into The Surf’ cleverly picks up on the twinkling keys of the first album’s ‘Surf Pt. 1’, swelling it into a big, cathartic outpouring. If there’s the smallest of quibbles to be found, it’s that ‘Black Bull’’s “future / kombucha” line might not be the singer’s most poetic accomplishment, but overall ‘ENSWBL, Part 2’ picks up the baton of its predecessor and sends it surging to the finish line, leaving Foals legions ahead of their competitors.
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