It’s been a long journey since their debut album in 2008, but Oxford’s Foals now have all the trappings of a properly big band. Their first number one album came in 2019, they went on a UK arena tour earlier this year and will be headliners at both Glastonbury’s Other Stage and the Latitude festival this summer. Usually for British groups at this point, the role models are either U2 or Radiohead: somewhere on a line between arty and pompous, but either way taking yourselves very seriously indeed.
Well they tried that, last time around, releasing the sprawling, intense Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost as two albums seven months apart in 2019. It earned them the Brit Award for Best Group and their third Mercury Prize nomination, and seems to have seen them reach a peak in terms of ambition.
That sets them free to try a third way on this seventh album: the Coldplay method. Why bludgeon those arena crowds to death with glowering art rock when you can turn up the fun quotient? Despite beginning this album in a windowless room during the winter lockdown, after the departure of keyboard player Edwin Congreave for an Economics degree at Cambridge, Life is Yours is packed with vibrant synths and a party feel. Frontman Yannis Philippakis skips past his reputation for bearded moodiness to sing: “Lost in the sugar rush/Violet sky/Beachside candy cane/Blue tongues in summer rain,” on the Chic-influenced disco funk of 2001.
Wake Me Up, with its clipped guitar line, handclaps and shouted backing vocals, feels less heavyweight indie band, more Duran Duran back on the yacht. The lyrics of 2am suggest the paranoia that can descend at the end of a big night out, but the danceable rhythm and bright keyboard riff keep the revelry going. This culminates towards the end of the album when The Sound races into view, its upbeat melody suggesting a summer spent on an Ibiza dancefloor rather than trawling round the festivals.
There has been plenty of subdued, pensive music composed during the pandemic. It feels like Foals were writing these songs while bursting to throw themselves back into an ecstastic crowd. “Being in lockdown and lamenting the changes of the world created the potential for a lot of really miserable and rubbish Covid albums that are going to age really badly,” drummer Jack Bevan has said. This one won’t. It’s an unrelenting joy.