While all of the trademark Foil elements – heavy drums, rapidfire punk guitar riffs and tense and intelligent vocals – are present on Never Got Hip, their second album for Mute‘s 13th Hour sub-label reveals a more emotive quality to the Scottish fourpiece.
At times, Never Got Hip has an unexpected pop twist, and at others – on the string-soaked ‘Groundwork’, or ‘The Ghost Of Vernon Howell’ – a maudlin, almost weary tone. Like vintage whisky, it’s a perfect blend, a well-executed masterpiece that also now appears to be their swansong, since no new Foil releases have appeared since this album came out in 2000.
Melody is an integral, and unchanged aspect of the Foil sound, demonstrated on tracks such as ‘End Of The World’, which also features Hugh’s familiar half-spoken, half-sung narrative and a midsection reminiscent of many a tumbleweed and dustbowl scene in classic westerns.
At times, this is uncomfortable, depressing listening, reminiscent of the kind of bitter, bleak music favoured by Joy Division or Nirvana, despite the inclusion of the pop gem single ‘Superhero No 1’, or the supreme upbeat thrash of ‘Half Life Bunker’. When they do let rip with their particular brand of high-speed rock, it is with a controlled and clipped professionalism borrowed from their influences (e.g. Fugazi, Minor Threat). With Hugh Duggie‘s refreshingly restrained vocal rarely straying into shredded rage territory, the duelling guitar interplay and drum fills are reminiscent of both Pixies and Sonic Youth (check out the Thurston Moore-isms embedded into ‘Weird Kid’).
What’s frustrating about Never Got Hip, is that if this record was released – and better-marketed – just a couple of years later, it would possibly have garnered a degree of pop chart success. In the light of rock’s sudden resurgence in the mid-2000s, a single like ‘I’ll Take My Chances’ was miles better than some of the rubbish faux-punk that our ears had to contend with at that time. That track represents an emotional masterpiece with a punk rock core; it rocks out whilst tugging at the heartstrings. The chorus on the final track ‘Claremont Junction Optimist’ perfectly encapsulates the contrast : ‘You breathe new life into me / And I’ll do what’s necessary‘. It’s the sound of a reluctant coming of age.
Foil were Hugh Duggie (vocals, guitar), Colin McInally (vocals, guitar), Alan Findlay (drums) and Shug Anderson (bass). Never Got Hip was recorded at Edinburgh’s Chamber Studios.
First published 2004; edited and re-posted 2019. This post was brought to you by the letter F, chosen by Andy Sturmey.
(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence