Foals’ latest album “What Went Down,” the band’s fourth studio album, has left the near addictive catchy songs, such as “My Number,” behind. More than Foals’ previous albums, “Antidote,” “Total Life Forever” and “Holy Fire.” “What Went Down” tells a story. Although not a very uplifting one, due to lyrics such as, “I see a darkness in my fate/ I’ll drive my car without the brakes” in the song ”Mountain At My Gate,” the tale is at least vivid.
Unlike Foals’ two previous albums, this album feels more confident, but it could also be argued that the band sounds complacent. That is not to say that the flow of this album is not above and beyond the previous albums, but it leaves the listener feeling like most of the songs are essentially the same, if not in sound, certainly in theme. A sad album can be effective, but the power of Foals’ past albums was that they featured moments of lightness that allowed for relief. This can be heard in romantic songs such as “Miami” and “Blue Blood” on “Total Life Forever.” These songs also had kind of funky beats that allowed for dancing. One could easily imagine these songs in the background of a film or a montage of a night on the town. This was evenly balanced with melancholy ballads such as “Spanish Sahara” that follow on the album.
“What Went Down” delves into darkness and stays there. The sixth song on the album, “Snake Oil,” sounds very much like The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy,” only I cannot imagine someone joyously dancing to it, as in the “Lonely Boy” video. “Snake Oil” continues the theme of disappointment and bitterness and ends with the line “In the day/ You leave me to want what I crave/ No surprise, to want what I can’t find.” But there is a familiar old time twang that has been very popular with bands lately. Foals’ takes it a step further with imagery featuring the snake oil salesman of yesteryear.
The listener gets a break from the wallowing in the song “Night Swimmers.” It features a fun moment of guitar strumming in the beginning and goes into lyrics similar to Weezer’s “Holiday” as they describe a secret oasis of love. This song is the most pleasant, but it comes out of left field. The album is quickly reabsorbed by the dark ballads. Maybe that’s what bands do when they have reached a certain level of notoriety, and, one could argue, “What Went Down” matches the current social climate. This album is in no way a failure, and the growth of the band can be easily charted, but “What Went Down” needs a little more sugar to get that medicine down.