Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Feeder - Renegades Album Review (2010)

First up I am a huge Feeder fan. That's what made this such a difficult review and one, on hearing the album for the first time, I didn't want to write. But I never back away from a challenge and I subjected myself to repeated listens to hear if it was just my initial reaction. Sadly, no. Ultimately I like the review even though the album is a real problem and I think I have made my views clear in a concise (for me) and honest way.

The review for In One Ear:

Feeder makes the kind of melodic indie-rock that most bands can only dream of. Brilliant lyrics blended into a plethora of wondrous anthemic stadia-worthy choruses, hooks and soaring verses. Or at least they did. Once. After a wonderful run of albums, the tragic death of original drummer Jon Lee produced Feeder’s best work, Comfort In Sound, and this remains a beautiful lasting tribute to Lee. Still with much to offer, Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose continued but Feeder were never the same and, in spite of the spirited and uplifting follow-up Pushing The Senses, the band’s last album Silent Cry is sadly lacking in ideas and focus. A return to the liberated early energy of Feeder’s wonderful debut Polythene was required. The band had the right idea but Renegades is the disastrous result.

To put this into perspective you need to understand how Renegades was conceived. After Silent Cry and in the summer of 2009, Feeder’s second drummer Mark Richardson left to rejoin his former band Skunk Anansie, to be replaced by Karl Brazil (from the woeful Ben‘s Brother). Later that year Nicholas, Hirose and Brazil changed the name of the band for what was to become a side-project called Renegades. It seemed as if Feeder was no more. Renegades toured the new “loud, uninhibited and exhilarated sound of Feeder doing what they want without a care in the world”. And herein lies the problem. The band’s reason for this was to play new different songs and not just roll out the old Feeder hits, and whereas the band reverted to the name Feeder, the Renegades ‘alias’ caused much confusion. This identity crisis has now manifested itself in the seventh Feeder album.

The problems start early on Renegades. Grant Nicholas is always the fourth instrument in the Feeder three-piece. His voice is always full of passion and emotion, not just in the softer gliding ballads but the big faster moments of blistering punk-pop. Renegades mostly comprise the latter but without Nicolas’s wonderful vocals. Mostly, his voice is flat and gritty, devoid of any melody. As for harmonies, there aren’t any. Opener White Lines is a muddy swirling vortex of guitars and repetitive rock lyric clichés. This is the next issue: the lyrics. This is further evident on Call Out: “If you wanna hear this song, you won’t have to wait too long…just call out” is the rather uninspired lacklustre chorus. The horrible vocal echo on the title track is a lame attempt to inject some emotion into a song that sums up the position: “we must hold on, yeah, we must hold one yeah, “we are not the problem”, sings Nicholas in what must be irony, and then “we must find out who we are”. All this framed by inane thumping drums.

Moving on, things don’t get much better. Saying that, Sentimental is a decent attempt at early Nirvana with great guitar work. In contrast This Town, while well intentioned and thoughtful in its subject matter, is a horrible mishmash of other songs. It just doesn’t work. And the big five minute epic Down By The River is trying desperately to be classic Feeder with no ideas and no lyrics. And the vocal echo is back. “We climbed every mountain, we crossed every bridge, just to get back to you, where the other side live” is probably the worst line Nicholas has written. The great opening of Home is subsequently ruined by the vocals and even though the chorus attempts a much needed lift, we are yet again subjected to thoughtless song writing as Nicholas asks “is this the right way?” and the crass “I know you like it…” montage. The least said about Barking Dogs the better - flat and uninspired and possibly the worst Feeder song ever written.

Late on, Renegades does provide a few rays of hope. City In A Rut is genuinely good, like the token pop-punk track on any of Feeder’s other very good albums. The guitars are superb and Nicholas does his best with the few words and ideas he has. Left Foot Right could be bad Kasabian and a melodic chorus suffers from a shaky vocal. Again it’s a serious subject wrapped up in a questionable delivery. But it’s the last song, appropriately named for so many reasons, The End, that provides the final insult. Nicholas croons “This is me, I can’t be someone else. I won’t be someone else” followed by “is this the end of the road?”. More irony one hopes.

Renegades sounds like Feeder pretending to be another band. And maybe that’s the point. Like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as their retched darkly funny and obnoxious alter egos Derek And Clive, Feeder are now this down and dirty rock band. If this is so, why go back to the name Feeder? Why go back and be someone you are not? Cynics would say it was marketing and ‘free publicity’ to keep fans interested. Hopefully not. And forgetting about the fact that Renegades rarely translates into any form of good music, why tarnish the name of Feeder with such obvious catharsis? As a huge Feeder fan I really hope that this is just that: Grant Nicholas getting all of the past out of his system so that Feeder, as they did with Comfort In Sound, can return to their superior and majestic best, very soon.
-- CS (for In One Ear)


Richard said...

I think this is a very harsh review though, refreshingly, doesn't seem to stem from a deep-seated loathing of all things Feeder.

Comfort In Sound is my favourite Feeder album too, and may very well be my favourite album ever. Sadly, I don't see the band ever changing this.

That said, some of the criticism aimed at individual songs seems unfair to me. Lyrically, Call Out has been criticised widely, but I don't see anything wrong with the lyrics. Don't get me wrong, it's nice to hear a serious song with important subject matter, but poignant lyrics are not the only good lyrics conceivable. Call Out is a bit of fun, it's simple, catchy and destined for festival sing-a-longs.

Lyrically, I actually don't have a problem with the Renegades material. To suggest that any lyrics from Renegades are Grant's "worst yet" implies to me that you've never listened to Silent Cry. Exhibit A: Tracing Lines. "I had a dream/I fell in to water/The water was deep." Yeeeaaaahhh.

Renegades as a track is fantastic, bouncy, catchy... fun. To me that summarises Renegades the album perfectly. It's a great summer album for those moments that don't need to be taken too seriously. Barking Dogs may not be excellent, but I can attest to enjoying it greatly live. If you think that's the worst Feeder song ever penned, I suggest you don't listen to the 2000 b-side Bad Hair Day.

This is not Feeder aping someone else. In fact, there are large echoes of Polythene and Swim throughout the album. What really comes through is that the lads have made their first genuinely fun album since Echo Park and, whilst it's no Comfort In Sound, such comparisons are unjust. Having only noticed feeder during the CIS era, I had to play catch up with the older material. But having done so extensively, I can assure you that Renegades follows a Feeder blueprint. Unfortunately, it just seems to be the side of them you don't personally appreciate.

For what it's worth, my only gripe with Renegades is the absence of the fantastic Times Of Crisis from the Renegades EPs.

Well written review, by the way, even if I don't agree with it =).

Chris said...

Thanks for your great response. As I said, I am a huge fan, and this is a tough album to take. It is being marketed as 'old Feeder with the melodies of new Feeder' which is blatantly not true. I also agree things for the band have been going down hill so maybe a direction change is a good thing. But not for me and not for the music. I wish them well. Always.