The Success Of The Maccabees And Foals Shows British Bands Are Back In Business

With these two high-charting albums getting loads of R1 airplay, rock and roll is back on the agenda...
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Photo c/o Nabil Elderkin

Photo c/o Nabil Elderkin

It’s easy to get carried away, 

First The Maccabees scored their first number one album with Marks To Prove It- a gentle monster that marked a huge leap from their previous records. Whereas before they felt defined by Orlando Week’s indie paper boy vocals, now it’s just one instrument in a true rock and roll orchestra. It’s an album full of widescreen moments, of songs that twin being tender and strong. It felt complete from the first listen and it still feels like that.

Then there’s Foals, who have just landed at number three with What Went Down: a record that further explores the new heavier direction they’ve synced with the arch, twitchy funk that defined their debut Antidotes. 

It’s a relentless record, one that could only have been made by Foals. Lyrically, Yannis plumbs new depths of introspection - ‘lost my mind in San Francisco/Worn out disco and temper’s cool’ on the major league weeper ‘London Thunder’- and from the first chord of opener ‘What Went Down’ it’s a blitz of metal riffs and 21st century discombobulation. They are songs for big sheds, and they will, along with 'Spanish Sahara', 'My Number' et al, take them into the A-List.

All of which leads to this windy pontification on the health of the British music scene. Any one with Soundcloud, Spotify or indeed ears will know there’s hundreds- actually hundreds - of bands making excellent music that makes a mockery of the old ‘guitar music is dead’ cliche. 

What there hasn’t been, however, is the sense that there’s great English bands making music that’s actually being listened to by people outside of the Pitchfork/DiS/6Music intelligentsia.

 If we take Arctic Monkeys out the equation, it’s hard to find a special, English, rock album at number one since Radiohead’s In Rainbows in 2008.

In the interim we’ve had some decent American acts - Arcade Fire and Jack White - but anything English has been a cannonball of meh. The Vaccines’s so-so second record, Kasabian’s anything, fucking Bombay Bicycle Club; aka the beige rug in the IKEA showroom of the music industry .

And then last year Royal Blood, with a strange, heavy album that didn’t really have any obvious singles, hit the top- propelled there by the backing of Radio 1.

It seems Radio 1’s experience with Royal Blood and (and Alt-J who also got number one) opened the floodgates. They fell in love with Wolf Alice, whose My Love Is Cool album did nothing for yours truly but enchanted the rest. Then Slaves reached number eight with their neon brand of British punk, and are still B Listed with ‘Sockets’ . The Vaccines’ third album, English Graffiti, which got to number two, had a couple of ‘Hottest Records’ and the best indie-banger-to-album ratio since Arctic Monkeys’ AM. Foals’ ‘Mountain At My Gates’ was A-Listed by them, and The Maccabees crooned a couple in the Live Lounge. 

Of course, there is an argument that using Radio 1 and ever-decreasing album chart sales as a barometer of the nation’s music taste is a mug’s game. This, after all, is a nation that once bought enough of The Feeling’s records for them to have a number one album.

And obviously for many the charts are always going to be an antithetical place; a whirlpool of dross and music to please no-one but the lunkheads. But then To Pimp A Butterfly got to number one and that’s hardly a Cowellian waltz.

My view is that surely anyone into music wants the bands they love up in lights, and in people’s ears. Which is why the success of The Maccabees and Foals points to a bright future for British bands making imaginative, passionate, rock music.

There’s some decent acts doing the rounds at the moment- Hooton Tennis Club,  Spector (both of whom have just dropped albums), Ultimate Painting, Real Lies, Lusts. There’s even a bunch of 12 year olds making shoegaze called Pesky! Whether or not one of these will be a North/South unifier - another addition to the great indie lineage - is unclear, but what is clear is that the future of British bands is in good hands. And just round the corner there’s always another great act: someone there at the right place, at the right time, maybe even with the right haircut.

So if the success of The Maccabees and Foals acts as a signifier of rock and roll’s bigger place in English hearts, then it’s definitely worth getting carried away.

Follow David on Twitter- @Gobshout

The Maccabees are out on tour this winter. Get info about the dates here. Get the new Foals record here