It wouldn’t be an out-of-pocket assessment to think that Fatherson are past their window in which to really blow up. To put them next to a de facto comparison point in The Xcerts—two bands finding their footing post-Britrock by cranking up the emotional stakes within something straightforwardly melodic—that band have had numerous moments of excellence that have buoyed their career in a way that Fatherson simply haven’t. They’re capable of good music, but when it’s seen as either lagging behind the crest of the wave, or a bit too cloying to match up to the best, it’s hard not to picture a band treading water in the somewhat vain hope that their break is due. And unfortunately, Normal Fears is all too emblematic of how that can turn out, in the alt-pop shift that would’ve practically guaranteed a healthy crossover base just a few years ago, but now is weighed down considerably by just how predictable the jump is. It’s a situation comparable to Twin Atlantic’s latter-day material, of a band taking a straight-laced but workable sound and thinning it out to where, even on pure, anthemic gusto, it’s a lot less impactful. That’s not to say that Normal Fears isn’t pleasant or easy to listen to, but it seldom gets further than that. Obviously its best moments are when Fatherson stick closest to their big-hearted indie-rock selves on songs like Normal People or Dive; they still feel anachronistic to the 2014 scene, but there’s enough swell to them to stick. The bigger issue comes in how Normal Fears just isn’t all that memorable, and how so much of that comes from Fatherson playing it incredibly safe. The abundance of piano ballads and slower numbers doesn’t help, but it’s really the increased focus on keys and squeaky-clean production finishes that sands away a lot of previous personality. That’s evident early in the stiff, stumbling beats of End Of The World and Do It For Yourself, only ever letting up in pockets but never falling back entirely.
It really does exacerbate a blandness that’s often been affixed to Fatherson, often a bit unfoundedly so but hard to argue with here. Where they used to have a decent amount of emotional presence to them, that’s not quite how this album plays out, no matter how much they try to make that the case. The central premise of emerging from a period of dark into the light is one that Fatherson could know out with no hassle, and while there’s nothing on Normal Fears that appears unnatural for them, they also don’t have the same weight either. Songs like Love For Air and Better Friend are clearly positioned towards the mid-2010s festival-indie space in how broad and sweeping their emotional centre is, but that’s not the most fertile ground for pulling more out of it than just a basic application. It’s where Normal Fears does wind up taking hold in the oft-attributed cloying, saccharine space, especially when Ross Leighton has so much quiver and oversold earnestness in his voice. To a point though, that isn’t all that new for Fatherson, and in those particular stakes, Normal Fears does work for what it’s trying to do. Fatherson have never been a band to push the envelope even slightly, and that’s followed up on here, in what’s intended to be a bolder step forward for them, but in the grand scheme of indie and pop-rock around them, is very much keeping with the norm. How backhanded that statement is depends on the overall view of this album; either it’s seen as Fatherson doing what they do best with a glossier coat of paint, or inching towards their own backslide in the same fashion that’s been witnessed a handful of times already. Inclination would suggest it’s closer to the latter though, even if this is less severe than some, but at the same time, Fatherson can do more and better than this. Just saying, it hardly feels like a coincidence that, on this career trajectory, they sound more middling and milquetoast than ever.
For fans of: Twin Atlantic, Catfish And The Bottlemen, Walking On Cars
‘Normal Fears’ by Fatherson is released on 1st April on Easy Life Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall