Fake News and Propaganda..
I never ask to get sneaky peaks of recordings Ferocious Dog are working on – when people ask I truthfully say there’s an appeal to waiting for the big reveal when the CD arrives in the post.
Funnily enough the latest person to ask was Ken – Ella and I had popped to see him a few weeks ago for some tattoos – he was surprised, and once he’d navigated the labyrinthine band and crew WhatsApp group admittedly we did hear a few songs through a tinny phone speaker whilst he kept tabs on Mansfield Town surprisingly failing to beat local rivals Notts County.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and a Facebook message pops up from Dan with a link to a Google Drive with ten mp3 files. The only accompanying explanation was ‘nearly mixed’ – no matter how much part of me might want to wait for the big reveal, it’s not like anyone is going to resist that opportunity, now is it? So of course I fired up the laptop and got downloading, eager as a kid on Christmas Eve to get stuck in.
When Dan announced a fourth album was in preparation seemingly instantaneously after The Red Album dropped there were a lot of raised eyebrows, not least from me – of course, the very tight timescale was something anyone would only ever take with a pinch of salt – but it was as exciting as unexpected nonetheless. It’s worth remembering that this is the first time back to back albums have been made with the same band line-up.
It made me reminisce a bit, I think we were in The Netherlands somewhere and I was helping a Dutch fan locate members of the band, as she wanted them to sign a vinyl copy of From Without she’d just bought – Alex was the missing piece of the jigsaw. We found him and handed him a Sharpie – afterwards he said “D’you know what, Al? I can’t wait until I can sign a CD or record that I actually played on!” – he’s now the first Ferocious Dog drummer to be able to do that for two albums, or at least will be very soon.
So anyway, I’ll start generally then you can choose to read on if you want more specific spoilers – this is a solidly excellent album, yet again. It follows the longer term and the more recent themes we’ve come to expect – there’s a traditional cover given the FD treatment, we have a song with Dan on lead vocals, we have a song with Les on lead vocals – there’s some new facets that we’ve not heard before. But it’s all unmistakably Ferocious Dog too.
The track order is yet to be finalised – but the opening and closing songs have been decided, so I’ve had a stab at guessing how the middle-eight (ha! musical puns) might line-up partly based on The Red Album and by trying to work out a sensible balance of the different paces and intensities. I’ve probably got it wrong, and if I tried it again tomorrow I’d probably come up with a different order – but for the sake of a preview let’s pretend!
Not that I can in any way justify how something sounds and feels in mere words – there is the potential for spoilers past this point, so stop now if you don’t want any of those!
Cry of the Celts opens up slowly – just strings before gentle drums and electric guitar build intensity and then bass thrums. It would be a good gig opener too in a ‘build up the anticipation’ way, the fiddle starts to swirl over the top and it’s more than a minute before more urgent percussion signals it’s kicking in along with visceral vocals evoking imagery of our native forebears, their Gods and landscape – finishing up with an ethereal instrumental and a final chorus. A strong start!
Cover Me is a collaboration with Nick Burbridge of McDermott’s 2 Hours fame, it was immediately obvious by the lyrical content and pacing it was a Nick song. Luckily for someone with such mastery of lyrical recall it won’t provide a problem for Ken to perform live, I’m sure. It starts just with guitar and Ken’s vocals, quickly built up into a full on folk punk barnstormer by the rest of the band. This is one of my favourites – the influence of Nick is all-pervasive but layered with Ferocious Dog instrumentation and some sublime fiddle-work to bring it all together into an instant classic.
Traitor’s Gate starts with guitar then full band stabs before a swirling fiddle riff takes the lead with insistent percussion. Ken’s vocals are angry and almost chanted – but then backing vocals soften the chorus until the chanted “They send me down to Traitor’s Gate!” – subjectively a kind of sequel to Gallow’s Justice – with a hint of Hell Hounds – there’s a gentle contemplative middle-eight before you’re thrown back into the melee with a rousing final chorus. If these three started a set you’d have a sweat on by now!
Bedlam Boys is the traditional cover, an early folk song of unknown origin but probably most famously part of Steeleye Span‘s repertoire. Probably unsurprisingly the FD treatment is a little different – a fiddle starts slow, drums kick in, the fiddle speeds up then all hell breaks loose as guitars and bass bring it up to speed. Ken’s vocals take up the verses, with backing again on the choruses. The song is inspired by St. Mary Bethlehem hospital in London which housed the insane.
Title track Fake News and Propaganda opens with drums then a swirling cacophony of swirling instrumental led by accordion. It drops down to a more basic beat and backing for the verses, charting the clusterfuck of our media – with The Sun, Rupert Murdoch and News International in particularly in the firing line – and a rally cry for people to turn off the news and leave the papers on the rack. Not bad advice, I reckon!
LL is one of the songs that offers something new – acoustic guitar starts and then mesmerising female backing vocalisations courtesy of the wonderfully talented Chantelle Hughes fade out to let Dan take over. Dan’s a lovely singer, and in a sense of fatherly fairness, daughter Lacey-Lee has a track much as Lyla did back on the first album. Chantelle joins to provide backing to the chorus in wonderful harmony. Until now just accompanied by guitar, but the final quarter or so of the song sees a wonderful string section introduced in a hauntingly lovely instrumental.
The Landscape Artist of course is one we’re familiar with already – lyrics initially provided by Jeremy Cunningham from Levellers, but made more optimistic. Instrumentally you can certainly feel the influence of Levellers though – unlike the radio edit though the track gets an extra verse and instrumental section which I think it certainly justifies – it’s quite an epic track to try to cut to three and a half minutes to evade the attention-span deficiencies of radio producers. Here you’re treated to a couple of extra minutes – and you’re certainly not left feeling bored.
Up All Night is mercifully not a Razorlight cover (guilty admission time – I actually quite like that track!), it’s “the Les song” on the album – it starts with some harmonies along with mandolin, very un-FD to start with – but as it kicks in it has an almost Leatherat feel to it driven along by chucking power chords and mandolin overlaid. In inimitable Les style the vocals are playful whilst addressing the kinds of thoughts I imagine a lot of people fret over as Brexit looms large on the horizon in the UK. It has stop/start bits, changes of pace – it will be fun in the mosh pit, that’s for sure.
96 has a gentle start – guitar and harmonica, before the rest of the band gently come in. The title is perhaps obviously a reference to those poor souls who lost their lives in the Hillsborough Disaster. The second verse starts to meander to another subject who’s covered in more detail in the final song – the instrumentation builds intensity into the third verse without picking up pace, it’s an emotional lament to those that we’ve lost. Hugely poignant, and very moving – and typically of Ferocious Dog – forward-looking, not backward.
Which leaves Yellow Feather which I first heard Ken and Dan play at the amazing Groovy II event last month. Those that knew Richard will know the impact this quiet smiley man has had on their lives – indeed, beyond – as probably hundreds of people sport a yellow feather tattoo, many of whom I suspect never had the pleasure of meeting him. This is his song – it’s sad and uplifting in equal measure with a plodding beat and gentle banjo, but ultimately extolling the philosophy he’s imbued us all with – we’ve all definitely still got groovy stuff to do.
I’m sure Richard would be proud as punch and mortified in the same breath to know he’s inspired a Ferocious Dog song, such a fitting tribute to someone who’s certainly had a big impact on my outlook on life, and countless others – and his legacy is redoubtless in raising thousands of pounds for the wonderful St. Giles Hospice.
And there we have it – I’ve learned after my reservations about whether they’d manage to get The Red Album sorted in time not to doubt that the album would end up being a triumph – and for my money it is, there’s formulas that have been followed since the debut, but there’s always new things to find too as the influence of the wider band pervades the overall sound. It’s a Ferocious Dog album, unquestionably, but they’re not content with just churning out the same old stuff either.
It’s been expertly and lovingly mixed and recorded by Phil again – who obviously understands probably better than anyone how everything needs to balance given his work on the sound-desk at live performances. When I first listened to it I remarked to Dan that I thought it sounded a bit like they’d “grown up” a bit – that in no way means it’s dulled its edge as we tend to with age, or that previous albums were in some way childish – but that was just the impression. He seemed to know what I mean. Maybe it’s because Ken has finally got a sensible haircut!
I think you’re going to like it when it lands, very soon.