Fangclub have always found themselves in an awkward middle ground of UK rock, and it’s one they’ve never really showed any signs of moving away from. They’ve definitely gotten better more recently, but there’s a pretty solid cap placed on grunge and garage-rock of this stripe, and it’s one that’s never been tested or experimented with, regardless of the lack of progression they’ve made. It’s left Fangclub feeling somewhat lost within the current scene, rumbling on without much in the way of inertia or direction to move them in any conceivable way, and that’s often manifested itself as a rather stark weakness on their part. It would be comparable to the life cycle of a band like Dinosaur Pile-Up, but considering how Celebrity Mansions blew pretty much everyone away and only continues to increase in stock, at least that band now have an out for something that Fangclub continue to be afflicted by. That said, the existence of Celebrity Mansions in itself proves that a considerable uptick can happen at any possible moment, so naturally that would extrapolate any hope towards Vulture Culture being, at last, Fangclub’s moment to shine.
And while this isn’t quite the album to get them there just yet, Vulture Culture is probably the first Fangclub release that could be described as unequivocally good, mostly because it’s perhaps their most cogent and noticeable advancement to date, at least in the stakes of songwriting. Musically, it still has issues that could be ironed out for a much more enjoyable listening experience, but as far as the overall body of work goes, the sense of overall progression here goes without saying.
It’s probably worth addressing the music first as well, as that’s where said progression is least evident and where Fangclub could do with sprucing things up a bit more. It’s not like this sort of grunge isn’t workable either, especially with a chunkier guitar tone on tracks like Viva Violent and All I Have, but the general sense is one of a sound that could be extended further but, for some reason, Fangclub seem reticent to do so. The vibe of ‘90s radio-rock is one that they’re clearly trying to capture, and while Vulture Culture is fortunately not as dated as it could be, the mid-paced, generally consistent middle ground that it falls into doesn’t make room for much vibrancy, only coming in bigger, more outwardly sweeping crescendos like the impressive buildup of opener Last Time. In general, Fangclub seem to be looking away from the bigger possibilities of rock like this, and it’s often to their detriment; to compare them once more to Dinosaur Pile-Up, their best moments come when they fully go for broke and crank up the volume and scuzz to its highest level. Fangclub, meanwhile, are trying something indicative of that, but it doesn’t coalesce with the same effectiveness, and, along with production that’s improved but can still be muddier than it should, mostly ends up trundling on by with only a handful of moments that really roar.
But in the broader scope of the album as a whole, that could easily be taken as the most effective way to capture its tone, one of brokenness and dejection where frontman Steven King dives into the precarious balances he tries to maintain between a mental state that’s gnawing away from the inside and a societal one that’s doing the same outside. It’s not a new conceit, obviously, but it’s one where Fangclub’s best moments come out and make for a compelling listen. King’s vocals are an immediate one, and while he’s not a powerhouse singer, there’s something about how frayed and tired his voice comes across on a track like Every Day that establishes a gravity behind these sentiments that really works. And when that’s tied into a larger mental canvas, burdened by broken and obsessive perceptions of love on Last Time and Kingdumb, dark thoughts driven by substance abuse on Nightmare and Hesitations, and exacerbated destructive tendencies driven by the modern world on the title track and Viva Violent, the detail within the darkness is the band’s most impressive salvo to date. It also keenly overshadows a good deal of the instrumental flaws too, as the heavier, bleaker tones provide a more stark backdrop for musical expression that matches it to a great degree.
For probably the first time, it feels like Fangclub are delivering on a grunge sound that they’ve often struggled to find suitable footing in, but by embracing themes that are far more personal and tones that, while still needing a bit of work, complement what’s here a lot more effectively, Vulture Culture feels like a considerable improvement. It’s certainly capable of pushing Fangclub out of the Britrock purgatory they’ve been holed up in for far too long, and even if it’s going tot are a bit more effort to do that than with most, there’s enough about this album to gravitate towards to where those possibilities hold a lot more weight. It’s an impressive amount of growth that’s been made, and Fangclub deserve every bit of praise they get for it.
For fans of: Dinosaur Pile-Up, Darlia, Pretty Vicious
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Vulture Culture’ by Fangclub is released on 5th July on Vertigo Records.