Album Review: General Fiasco – Unfaithfully Yours

By on Monday, 30th July 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

General Fiasco have done a good job in the last year to stay in the public’s consciousness. After signing to new label Dirty Hit (run by their London-based manager) in late 2011, they released the ‘Waves’ EP in November, followed by the EP ‘Don’t You Ever’ in March just after their appearances at SXSW 2012. The Olympics even gave the band a special nod: they were chosen to headline a special show in Belfast in early June, when the Olympic relay passed through the Northern Irish capital.

After releasing the promo video for new single ‘Bad Habits’ on the 20th of June, the band is ready to unleash their second album (and their first with Dirty Hit), ‘Unfaithfully Yours’. While several songs will be familiar to fans as EP and/or single tracks, there is plenty enough freshness to make this one of most cheered about releases of 2012. Ex-Panama Kings keyboardist and guitarist Stuart Bell joined last year as well, adding another axe as well as another dynamic to the mix, giving this album a different feel from 2010’s ‘Buildings’ put out on Infectious Records.

I was so sure the title suggested that the direction of this record was based on bad relationships, but in an interview earlier this month with Chris Jones of Alternative Ulster, drummer Stephen Leacock explained the title came from a nasty letter they wanted to send to an amplifier company. This company gave them an endorsement but the band wanted to write them a note, with a completely unlaudatory signature of “unfaithfully yours” to emphasise that their products proved completely unreliable. They never ended up sending the letter, but Leacock said the two words “unfaithfully yours” felt like a good fit for the album title.

The name also likely alludes to the fact that as reported in Jones’ article, they were dropped by Infectious Records, who were pushing for an album to be released quicker than the band could produce one of a caliber they were happy to put out. I think it’s safe to say us music bloggers are all too aware of the bands we know and love being pressured to put out material more quickly than they want to and not necessarily at the high standard (or even style) they want. (For more discussion of this, see my interview/review of the new Olympic single by Delphic.) In the case of General Fiasco, it sounds like they had groups of songs written at different time points and had plenty of material, but the breathing room the signing to Dirty Hit afforded them proved crucial, allowing the band to put out the album they wanted to this summer.

The quickfire pace is set with first track ‘Gold Chains’. (A live version is embedded in this MP3 of the Day and more post.) This could prove to be the band’s ‘I Can Talk’; it’s begging for an equally frenetic video (if it becomes a single as I suspect it will be, that is). Just a bit less in the frantic department is ‘Closer’, which could very well be Owen Strathern’s “close-up” song with the hordes of girls already in love with him; these girls will know all the words to this song, you just know it from his emphatic singing of “I wanna be closer…you should be right here”.

All joking aside, like all of General Fiasco’s catalogue, ‘Closer’ has a happiness that only happens when their guitars and drums come to together with Owen’s voice. I can’t scientifically or not, explain it better than that; songs like this and ‘Sleep’, previewed at SXSW this year (video in my review of their appearance on the Thursday afternoon Music in Ireland showcase in an Irish pub on 6th Street here), will get your toes tapping, if not up and out of your chair to dance. ‘Temper Temper’ sounds like it could be the brother of ‘Don’t You Ever’; if you liked the latter, you will for sure love this one. That said, if loud, fast, in your face songs are not your thing, I don’t think you’re going to like this album very much. And I can see that this is probably where this effort is going to be unfairly judged by mainstream media critics.

A funky guitar riff pervades ‘Brother Is’, Owen sings, “you should stay cool when you’re heating up / you’re a delicate boy / not a delicate man” and “we’re up against a firing line / just waiting to die”. Not exactly pop lyrics, are they? However, the song strikes me as a good example of the maturity of the songwriting; I think it’s best described as an “advice” kind of song, coming from a big brother or father figure, explaining how important it is to be your own man, thinking for yourself and acting your age. ‘Hollows’, a definite highlight on ‘Unfaithfully Yours’, also feels more mature. Instrumentally, it’s rich with another funky riff plus fantastic drums and percussion from Leacock and what sounds like a violin but might just be guitar (?); add all of that with Owen’s chorus of “I go, I go, I go for it / my heart, my heart, and my heart beats less / I want, I need somebody else” and his resignation of “I know this won’t get better / it’s all right, we won’t get better” make for a compelling song. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is “just a pop band”; General Fiasco is proving with smart songwriting that they’re far more than that.

‘This is Living’, the one slow song on this album, is just Owen’s voice and piano. It’s too early to say if Chris Martin should be getting worried. While it starts slow, ‘The Bottom’, beginning as a heartfelt, almost wistful ballad at being at the end of your rope, breaks open into a powerful, rousing number. “We’ve done to ourselves / nobody will know / what we’ve done to ourselves” are the last, emotional words. Below is an acoustic version of it; if you think this version is full of feeling, just wait for the album version. That’s right: go get this album. Immediately. Once they get an American label contract – something I bet they will have soon enough – Two Door Cinema Club, watch out.

8.5/10

‘Unfaithfully Yours’, General Fiasco’s second album, is out today on Dirty Hit. If you purchase the album from iTunes, you will receive a bonus track, ‘Maybe I Might’.

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