Tis the season for rock bands to get all venom and vitriol on us and Lostrophets aren’t shying away from the party. ‘The Betrayed’, their fourth studio album, leaves the bouncing, radio friendly ‘Liberation Transmission’ floundering in its over-produced mire in favour of pulling out its hair and ripping at its skin, throwing bloody clumps at those still tossing their fringes to ‘Can’t Catch Tomorrow’.
It wasn’t that ‘Liberation…’ was terrible, but by Lostprophets standards of consistently delivering on the right side of acid-burned rock-pop, it fell short. Perhaps the band realised they were slowly being ushered down MOR lane when they canned the first attempt at this album and gave bassist Stuart Richardson the production reins.
Always a band to come out of the stalls guns blazing, ‘If It Wasn’t For Hate We’d Be Dead By Now‘ sets up a grumbling, sneering front for Watkins who positions his vocals between Cornell and Patton, while the jack hammer percussion and strangely airy guitar lead you onto the warpath of ‘Dstryr and Dstryr‘. Never mind the Twitter style spelling and ‘motherfucker’ing bravado, if this is the band setting up a united front against their detractors (‘every word you write we will erase, every time you think you’ve stopped us we rise up stronger from the dust’), it could also easily be a message to themselves as they shake off the Bob Rock glitter and showgirl synths and emerge, screaming and guitars squalling, like the proverbial phoenix.
A question: what’s a Lostprophets album without choruses the size of France and backing vocals that dwarf football chants? Who knows, we won’t be seeing it yet as ‘The Betrayed’ herds the future festival ground shakers together like prize studs; ‘It’s Not The End Of The World But I Can See It From Here‘ is preluded by SOS type blips and ends with a delicate string arrangement to segue into what, for the fans, might be a thank you note. The video for ‘Where We Belong‘ certainly is shameless in its sentiments as concert footage shows them in full appreciation and, slightly against hope, the band show little change in tried and tested anthem mode.
‘The Betrayed’ also revisists Watkins’ recurring themes of rotten cities and crumbling streets, of escape and battling those who would bring you down with ‘Streets of Nowhere‘ and ‘A Better Nothing’ (the former’s gleeful piano will either endear or enrage). It’s here that you begin to sense a sea-change for even though they sparkle with Lee Gaze’s riffs, it’s not hard to sense a dark undercurrent of bitterness and self-realisation being experienced by Lostprophets’ singer.
Renowned as a cocksure and charismatic frontman – straight talking, apt to offer quotes that make editors gasp in delight and music fans choke, and with a track record of gorgeous girlfriends – there is somewhat of an epiphany happening here. Overdue, some might say, but definitely intriguing. If you can make it through ‘Next Stop Atro City‘, which falls on its own sword for much of its 3 minute duration, Watkins managing to couple ‘velocity’ with ‘atrocity’ while maintaining a straight face, there are tantalising glimpses here that he’s aware he is a man of faults, of sometimes cruel intentions. Underneath the breeziness of ‘Dirty Little Heart‘ he sings of broken bones, open wounds and careless absences, it’s a portrayal of naked regret that ends with a grandiose but compressed instrumental of tinkling pianos and crunching, dense synths.
The concluding trio of ‘Dirty Little Heart’, ‘Darkest Blue‘ and ‘The Light That Burns Twice as Bright‘ displays a maturation of sound. ‘Darkest Blue’ might shamelessly borrow its base elements from ‘Last Train Home’ but through the cracks leak the complex layers of emotions that fuelled romantic rogues and louches like Gene and Suede, lending the song a gravity and beauty that ‘Last Train Home’ couldn’t, or didn’t, want to achieve.
And if Lostprophets want to make fans double-take, then closing cut ‘The Light…’ should achieve that; its venture into a chorus that Coldplay’s ‘Clocks’ might feel comfortable with is secondary only to the awe-inspiring and absolute ambition of what is being aiming for. Imagine armies of Terminators crunching on broken skulls, AT-AT’s emerging on the Hoth horizon, HAL 9000 locking Poole out in space… its vision is cinematic, extreme and ultimately beautifully bleak; pianos crash like plummeting chandeliers, the lyrics lie in betrayal and blood and, when it spills over on itself like a giant wave, the scale is monstrous and spasmodic. It almost finishes of its own accord, the creators having collapsed, and the sound desk simply fading out with a computerised message before shutting off.
The crepuscular machinations of ‘The Betrayed’ – violence, rawness, truth, revenge – are the cogs that you want to be caught on, it’s with some regret that what they’ve created is prodded back into the sunlight by the hyperkinetic crowd pleasers, the style Lostprophets have made their name with. It takes time but when you’ve separated this album into the three tiers it eventually inhabits, it’s the lower echelons, of being trapped in an emotional dungeon with the bones of the past, that make them and the corresponding songs the most interesting, audacious and decisive of their 10 year career.
Words by Taylor Glasby