On an unseasonably warm night in March, 2013, within the august, hallowed walls of the Royal Albert Hall in London, something extraordinary happened. Five musicians took to the stage, launched into a song called Inhaler, and blew the roof off. For the 5,000-plus people who were lucky enough to be present that evening, the experience was more like a mass epiphany at a revivalist meeting than a gig. Foals whipped up a frenzy and sent it hurtling towards the audience, who gave it a shake and sent it hurtling right back. Two hours later, we staggered, reeling, out into the night. This was more than music. This was alchemy.
But then, inevitably, came the fear. Could the band ever match this? My advice for the fretters is simple: put on track one – the title track and lead single – of Foals’s visceral new album, What Went Down. Put it on anywhere – on your headphones, in the car, in the great wide open, and put it on LOUD. “I buried my heart in the hole in the ground,” sings Yannis Philippakis, like a fire-and-brimstone preacher in a Deep South prayer house, over eerie, pitch-shifting organ. “With the lights and the roses and the cowards downtown. They threw me a party, there was no one around. They tried to call my girl but she could not be found.” That’s when the beat kicks in, a giant Motorik beast of a thing that hurls the song forwards. A lowering, syncopating theme enters the picture, threatening to drag the song down into the depths. And, oh God, here’s the chorus. It doesn’t just arrive, it explodes. “When I see a man I see a lion,” Yannis screams. “When I see a man I see a LIAR.” Radiant, roiling, roistering, rabble-rousing: this is music that is at once beautiful and hellish, euphoric and demonic. What, and you were worried Foals couldn’t match what they’d created before? Match it? They’ve fucking left it for dust.