Born out of a period of upheaval (leaving their record label) and dedication (an ambitious but successful funding campaign), you could be forgiven for wondering which way Fight Like Apes would head on their third album. The name’s a clue for a start. Gone are the unwieldy, jokey titles of the past (and who thought that The Body Of Christ & The Legs Of Tina Turner was a good idea), replaced by the simple, down to business Fight Like Apes. It’s almost as if they felt they were starting afresh…
Which perhaps is what they need to do. Five years is a long time to wait between albums, especially given the musical field in which they’ve been working. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that a proportion of their audience will have moved on in the interim, although that FundIt campaign would also point to a large number who really care what Fight Like Apes do next. But how does a band balance the two, attracting new fans while pleasing the old ones? By sticking to what they know, it would seem.
Right from the off, we’re on familiar territory – pop music with a twist. As a collection of songs, it features probably some of their strongest work to date. Last year’s ‘Crouching Bees’ set the tone and there’s more where that came from – the incessantly catchy and appropriately titled ‘Pop Itch’, the booming bass of ‘Numbnuts’ and recent single ‘Pretty Keen On Centrefolds’. All great tunes for sure, if very recognizable to anyone who’s seen them live during the past three years.
And there lies the rub with Fight Like Apes, a lack of surprise. It’s the album that most people expected them to make five years ago – a slightly rebooted, superior version of Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion. The thing is, they didn’t do that at the time. Instead they made that darkly brilliant, awfully titled second record and pushed themselves to new heights, creating a few problems for themselves in the process.
Maybe Fight Like Apes is a reaction to that, but there’s an unavoidable sense that it could have offered more. Even at their strongest, the songs feel strangely unfinished – never quite bursting into life. And then, after drifting dangerously with the FLA by numbers of ‘The Hunk And The Funpalace’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Have To Mate With You’, the record does just that. ‘Baywatch Nights’ is a restrained joy and ‘Maevis Beacon Annihilation’ has a determined swing to it. Yet it’s the closing ‘Carousel’ where everything falls into place. Five minutes long and with a crazy time shift from a military march into some sort of nuts prog rock highland fling (complete with a children’s chorus), it’s everything you want Fight Like Apes to be as they approach their tenth anniversary – mad, bad and dangerous to know. A whole album of the same would probably have been too much, but you wish they could have applied some of that inventiveness to what had gone before.
As it is though, this is probably the record that they needed to make – if not the one that they should come up with. It’ll do the job for now and hopefully provide a springboard for further adventures. The Apes have returned, now let’s see them rise.