Album Review: Feeder Return With Double Album Black / Red


Following their show at the York Barbican, Charlie Bradbury (he/him) reviews Feeder’s new release

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Image by Steve Gullick

By Charlie Bradbury

Six years ago, I went to a small music festival in Suffolk and experienced the phenomenon of live music for the first time. I did my best to listen to the musicians who would be playing before attending, so I could show up and sing along with everyone else. The opening headliner was Feeder – two guys who formed a rock giant of the nineties – and I can safely say that they were the best group I saw across the whole weekend. Going to see them last month at York Barbican was like stepping into a time machine, and now I get to listen to their new album, Black / Red, for the first time and share my thoughts with you. Let’s just say it’s been a fun couple of weeks. Why don’t you try and listen along as you read, take a break after Disc One as intended by the band, then rejoin me for Disc Two? It's how I approached the album and I promise it's worth it.

‘Drones’ is the first track of the album and is a minute of synths slowly building a tense atmosphere that waits to be pierced. It seamlessly flows into ’ELF’, which couldn’t be more like Feeder’s style if it tried. Expressing concerns for the state of the climate crisis, the song is very clearly a cry for help in what feels like a hopeless situation. It’s full of distorted, grungy guitars accompanied by smooth, fuller synths to balance the sound out, and catchy hooks to accompany the whole thing. I found myself bopping my head to this one, and continued to do so as I began ’Playing with Fire’, a slightly faster paced song consisting of meaty, irresistible bass riffs. A title like this one would lead you to believe that the climate themes have continued, but they end with ‘ELF’. Instead, this piece takes a tour of all the emotions felt following a “lost or broken love” and the “emotional rollercoaster” of that comes with mentally unravelling, said singer Grant Nicholas, who found the creative process a “roller coaster ride of self-discovery”.

‘Vultures’ is the first full length song on this album that is new to listeners and praises the self-realisation that being yourself is all that should matter, and that you can find confidence in it. The pace then slows for ’Sahara’, a song tackling the pain of an ending relationship that someone is desperately clinging onto. Musically, it compliments ’Vultures’ nicely, opting for a strong wall of chords over the heavy riffs.

The next two songs both highlight the realness of mortality and the regret you’ll feel if you don’t take advantage of the time you have. ’Hey You’ comes first, and has such a simple hook that after a couple of listens, I can guarantee the “oh-oh”s and “ye-eah”s will be playing on loop in your head for hours. Lyrics such as “head up in the clouds” and “blinded by the news” outline how we’ve had a veil drawn over our eyes as a society and must remember to let go every once in a while, and enjoy what we have, rather than being bogged down by stresses and negativity in the world. Its slow pace is contrasted by ’The Knock’, which draws parallels between life and a twisting road, with ups and downs that are often unpredictable. The opening twenty seconds is reminiscent of some of Feeder’s earlier punk-esque sounds, hammering home the fact that at the end of the day, the band is not eager to throw away the sounds that their first few albums firmly cemented.

The two songs that close Disc One of this double record album are both far more dissonant than anything prior to them. It’s certainly one thing people either love or hate to hear in music, and personally I can’t get enough of the stuff. ’Perfume’ is yet another strong bass song, showing off the knack Feeder have for plucking riffs out of thin air and making a song to match it. This song gives just a taste of what Disc Two holds thematically, expressing a strong desire to escape before it rips this fictional couple in different directions. The final song is named ‘AI.m^n’ and is the most rebellious of all eighteen songs in my opinion, advising the listener “don’t look back, you’ll always fall back in” following “question after question”. It feels like a test of courage, championing resilience as a sign that individuality exists in people who don’t follow the flock.

Grant stated that when writing Black / Red, he “wanted the album to be split in two parts for the listener” so that’s what we’re going to do. If you’ve been listening along whilst reading, then get up and make a drink before sitting down again, because it’s time for Disc Two.

‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ is our opener, and immediately covers themes of living life well and seeking out the things that will make living good. Yet again, if you’re here for the strong riffs, this one will be another one for you, as the bass hits harder and heavier than anything yet. Jumping to ’Scream’, Feeder were clearly having some fun writing their intros, as many of them in Disc Two are incredibly deceptive, with an acoustic guitar lunging into the familiar full and distorted tone of the album, the harshness of it mirroring the instability of the lyrics’ speaker, and the lack of control created when the person holding their entire world together has gone.

‘Submarine’ is similar in its unpredictability, starting off with a nice slow drum rhythm and almost exclusively synths and acoustic guitars. But passing the halfway mark of this song, and some very heavy riffs come in, heavier than anything before. By the end, my jaw was agape with how heavy they went. The tempo shifted, and heavy riffs were going wild. This is the song you’d want to be in the mosh pit for, without a doubt. It’s another song about escaping to somewhere new for the sake of self-growth, improving quality of life, and growing relationships further.

We then shift into ‘Lost in the Wilderness’, a catchier song that slows the tempo down again. It portrays losing sense of direction in life when apart from a loved one. Despite the slightly moodier feel to the lyrics, the positive tone of the music shifts lyrics such as “We can’t be apart, Two lonely hearts” to have much more love and sentiment in them rather than just being gloomy, which is the tone ‘Memory Loss’ takes on. It reminds us of the sound that this album has settled in, and lyrics such as “In the end you know, resistance always seems to be impossible” act as a foil to ‘AI.m^n’ from Disc One.

‘Unconditional’ ditches the more intense sounds again, opting for a marching beat on the drums and so many changes in the time signature that it's hard to keep track, yet fits in so naturally that if you weren’t trying to keep track, you wouldn’t know anything was different. The use of backing vocals, which have been present through the entire album, come to play a more major part in this piece, taking the place of guitars as the main melody component, and really demonstrates Grant’s range in abilities as a vocalist.

‘Here Comes The Hurricane’ has a nice sentiment, suggesting that people are stronger when together, and that it's something that has come naturally since childhood, as is the feeling of resilience and resistance. This song splits two songs that I personally think would have been perfect sat next to each other on this album, as the following track ‘Soldiers of Love’ takes the marching rhythm of ‘Unconditional' and really makes it as obvious as possible. The track opens with bagpipes, and the military, snare-heavy drum rhythm that accompanies it doesn’t leave throughout the song, with the synths taking on a sharper sound that gives a nod to the bagpipes, attempting and succeeding in creating something grand and almost cinematic. The song is slow and full of emotion in every component, with beautifully crushing lyrics of finding new love in a world that feels empty and hopeless. The closing song takes a return to what we’ve become familiar with, yet ‘Ghosts of Paradise’ does give us a dramatic ending, building all through the song with a crazy, climactic guitar solo right at the finish.

Across an eighteen-track epic from Feeder’s first double album, it is evident that the many years of writing and touring has allowed the group to hone their ear and really perfect their sound, as not a single song feels out of place in this album. Disc One is used to cement some heavy, rich, full tones, and Disc Two is used to completely subvert that and play around with more inventive ideas, which is what I believe makes it so brilliant. If you listened along and found there to be a certain level of repetitivity, I can sympathise with you on the first listen through. However, going back and listening a second time, it becomes easier to pick out the intricacies that set individual tracks apart from each other. The defining bass riffs from Taka Hirose and incredible vocals with such personalised production on them from Nicholas Grant is really all it takes to make a song undeniably Feeder, and they are clearly not done just yet.