Yannis Philippakis was once the Napoleon Bonaparte of the British indie scene. As frontman for Foals, he was the little guy with big ambitions and the iron will to make them real. But now there’s a better parallel. Mocked for years and dismissed as a has-been, he’s attracting a new generation of adoring fans. The passion, the sincerity, the love of gardening, the beard – it’s all there. Yannis is the indie Jeremy Corbyn.
Passion is back in fashion, and just like Jez, Foals are using sheer conviction to make old ideas feel new. What Went Down isn’t a great leap forward for the Oxford-born, London-based band: much like 2013’s Holy Fire it mostly melds big, supple grunge workouts with the band’s trademark pointillist guitars. It’s Philippakis that steps things up: spitting, roaring and crooning oracular lyrics about mountains, rivers, fate and violence, he’s become a real force of nature. His powerful presence makes the band’s fourth record a mighty piece of work.
And it does sound huge. What Went Down is a festival headliner’s album: ten songs tailored for massive crowds and massive speakers. Close your eyes and you can already imagine next summer’s epic light show. But until then, the album occasionally sounds a bit flat. There are no bouncy pop hits like My Number to keep things brisk (Night Swimmers comes closest). Instead, it’s all sound and fury – enough to make anyone a bit nostalgic for the old Foals. Remember the perky riffs? The songs about mathletics? The tennis shorts? In short: awe-inspiring but weirdly unlovable. James Manning the bottom line Foals’ fourth album is serious, weighty and impressive – but not actually much fun.