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Album review: Foals hone musical heritage, charisma, lose with weak songwriting in ‘Holy Fire’

Foals is a mixed bag. Boasting rhythms in homage to Talking Heads with the aggravation of Rage Against the Machine, this group of Oxford, England, natives exhibits an eclectic array of hip, yet appropriately vintage, post-punk and punk-funk influences. Surely I am not the first to note this, but these bands that have a presence on this album are royalty in their respective genres and periods. 

The lead single “Inhaler” from Foals’ Tuesday release “Holy Fire” is an example. This song stands defiant on the record, making a name for itself with a scratchy verse that gives a nod to Talking Heads’ lead vocalist David Byrne, only to be built upon with a teasing, luring chorus that has a hair-raising intensity to it – strikingly similar to Jane’s Addiction’s best days. 

Lead singer and guitarist Yannis Philippakis has a polarizing quality that can nuance dance-rock a la Phoenix, but is also capable of a shout of power. “My Number,” the second single released from “Holy Fire,” works much to the same effect in its dance-like qualities, even if Philippakis is significantly more subdued.

“Bad Habit,” “Late Night” and “Stepson” are all solemn pieces. The fact that the majority of the record has this nature makes it simple to observe the conflict between single songs and the album tracks, and which songs make it to charts. However, I find that these songs help define Foals on a bigger scale, mainly its willingness to dabble with different atmospheres while preserving its quintessential style and influences. 

“Milk & Black Spiders” and “Providence” are turbulent jams with interweaving treble and percussion sections that synthesize addictive, chopping tunes with the spirit of Talking Heads and Gang of Four. Foals has a clear goal to achieve in its sound and has a detailed guide on how to attain it. 

Foals’ coverage of most of the 1970s and 1980s greatest post-punk bands does not mean that Foals is on their level, they have merely made a set of songs that are aurally similar. Foals is weak as far as songwriting goes, and as cliché as it is to describe it as cliché, it is just that. “Inhaler” is a massive standout because “Holy Fire” is a quiet, melodious album for the most part. A line from “Inhaler’s” verse, “Sticks and stones / Don’t break my bones / You make me believe.” Now from the chorus: “So can you not go away? / If just for one day / Oooh / Impossible, possible way” followed by more lines about being in a war with an arbitrary “you.” I use this track as a scapegoat, but much of the songs take its lead in the direction of being cliché. Foals can easily be celebrated as a group of musicians but only as lyricists to those looking for a cheap sing-along with idiomatic phrases.

In the scheme of English rock bands, Foals exhibit a sense of charisma that exceeds many. There are not a lot of bands on Foals’ level that have a musical heritage that can be linked to such an extent. As such, Foals’ brand of rock will hopefully flourish and become more refined, even if its lyrics don’t make the same improvements. 


Grade: B

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