Fandango is The Phoenix Foundation’s longest record to date and, in theory, should be their most progressive. After all, how else can you justify a dozen songs that average six minutes apiece? Well, for starters, the final track throws off the average by being 17 minutes alone.
But let’s be clear about one thing: that a song is longer than, say, six minutes doesn’t mean it’s progressive, or even necessarily a progression. It simply means that the song is longer than standard radio fare. At what point do you look at a 17-minute song not as an artistic statement of patience, but one that tests it?
‘Friendly Society’ may develop effectively enough to be considered progressive, but the song’s evolution throughout isn’t natural enough to justify its length. The first half advances sensibly enough, but by the time it hits the ten-minute mark it devolves, ironically, into a series of under-cooked ideas stitched together in an attempt to create a second half as cohesive as the first. The song is simply the result of a lack of an editor.
Which is odd given the rest of the album. Apart from the closer, everything else in this set constitutes some of the best progressive indie around. ‘Inside Me Dead’, for example, begins as a lavish shoegaze number and gently morphs into a dreamy soundscape with hushed vocals buried beneath a lonely guitar melody. The transition is as well crafted as the two halves themselves. Similarly, ‘Sideways Glance’, the strongest song here, starts out as space rock seen through a post-punk prism, before a fluttering synth gives way to an Afro-pop-centered second act.
Not only is it the best song here musically, but it is also lyrically strong. TPF have always had a gift for novelising descriptions, and this song continues that trend: “Sideways glance, and I wouldn’t rate my chance/So typical of me and typical of you/To turn away from the awful truth/When I’m wearing dancing shoes” – the band managing to make even something as potentially trite as a dancefloor meeting sound convincing.
But the album is sprinkled with short, pop ditties, as well. ‘The Captain’ rides a cloud of synths that spirals into uncertainty as Samuel Scott sings, “Hey dude, don’t be so frightened of your bleeding heart”. ‘Evolution Did’ shuffles along in a straightforward manner, driven by its pulsing bass line. Then there’s ‘Walls’, a song that dances around ‘60s doo-wop vocals backed by a strutting rhythm section.
All of this could only make sense, then, if The Phoenix Foundation had expert control over their sound. And, despite one misstep, they surely do. Historically, progressive rock hasn’t had much of a relationship with indie rock. The former is a hard sell by itself, so combining the two makes an already difficult task even more so. The line between progression and self-indulgence in music is largely a flimsy one. However, The Phoenix Foundation walk it beautifully.