Field Music have a thing for the most lavish proclivities of 1980s pop. At their best—like Commontime and Open Here—the Sunderland band’s art rock invokes second-wave British invasion acts like Duran Duran, Phil Collins, and the Human League, along with the swagger of Was (Not Was). They’ve never received their due—not even in a country as hungry for guitar heroes as the UK, where rock magazines have been forced to make stars of Royal Blood—but their music has always been ambitious. Field Music produce the kind of songs that, if sold under Brandon Flowers’ name, would be heralded as progessive stadium anthems. So it’s strange that Flat White Moon feels like the answer to a question nobody asked: What would happen if the band ditched its eccentricities?
On their eighth album in 16 years, brothers Peter and David Brewis move away from the overtly political writing on their last two records—Open Here featured astute Brexit-era observations; Making a New World was an unlikely concept piece about the aftermath of the First World War—for more personal songwriting. But where those albums were radiant and quirky, Flat White Moon is blunt and crepuscular. Field Music are a great singles band, and not in the cruel sense that their albums aren’t very good. Here that swaggering touch has deserted them. The math-rock drums and hard-edged guitars that balance the band’s pop instincts have been mostly smoothed out; the blaring brass of some of their most anthemic songs is no more. At their best, Field Music take risks. Flat White Moon is a record that too often plays it safe.
So you get a song like “Do Me a Favour,” which according to press notes was written about David Brewis’ young daughter, yet sounds not personal but simply generic. “When you are out there/With no one to hold on to/You’ll be strong enough,” he sings, matching bland platitudes with a mid-tempo AM radio rock arrangement that goes nowhere.
Other moments are just confusing. Field Music have always enjoyed a dash of Paul McCartney’s gentlemanly English whimsy, but “When You Last Heard From Linda” sounds like any of hundreds of forgotten bands that tried to ape the Beatles in the late 1960s. “Invisible Days” is something a young band that learned about Smile three years ago might attempt. Most disappointingly, the ability to craft a chorus seems to have deserted them—the hook to “I’m the One Who Wants to Be With You” slowly deflates like a burst soccer ball—and the songs that do attempt to introduce those trademark irregular drum patterns, such as “Meant to Be,” are strangely jerky.
There are some superb moments. “No Pressure” is one of the few tracks to deliver the band’s familiar sense of levity, as the brothers take turns on lead vocals. Bringing politics back into their writing, the song takes aim at Britain’s ruling class, encapsulating the sentiment of the scattered Northern England strongholds—communities “crushed in the ruins”—that continue to resist the Tory Party’s rule, now in its second decade. Featuring a delicate drum machine, “The Curtained Room” is one of the band’s better quiet songs, introducing a more whispering, almost David Gilmour-style vocal and melody. These moments leave open the possibility that Flat White Moon is simply a stagger in the wrong direction, and not evidence of a band hitting veteran status but now running on fumes.
Buy: Rough Trade
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