I’ll call it the Little Fat Policeman effect. When I was a kid, my uncle bought me a Disney 45 whose label said contained songs from the movie The Aristocats. It didn’t. The record was a misprint, and instead contained two songs about a Little Fat Policeman. I can still hear the a-side in my head. “I’m a policeman, dressed in blue…”
Upon first hearing Future Sound of London’s new album, The Isness, I did the same sort of double take. This is not FSOL. Couldn’t be. Garry Cobain and Brian Douglas don’t make lame, watered-down hippie-styled pseudo-Eastern folk music. I should know; I’ve listened to their last record, Dead Cities, more times than is probably healthy, and I can tell you definitively that Cobain and Douglas make some of the strangest, most challenging electronic sounds ever committed to plastic. They plumb depths, weave tapestries out of bizarre, nascent organic shapes, and dig bottomless pits of sound. They do not make spineless and uninventive psychedelia. This is not their newest album. This is a Fat Fucking Policeman, or some nonsense.
But, after checking my sources, I am unhappy to report that this is indeed the first FSOL album in six years, and it’s a stink bomb. Unlike Underworld’s new record A Hundred Days Off, which is accomplished even if it lacks some of the edge of some of their older music, The Isness is flat-out terrible. Cobain and Douglas have either let drugs eat their brains to the point that their judgment is severely impaired, or they have surrendered to some sort of nightmarishly upbeat and mind-numbing hippie cult. Either way, it is the worst thing they’ve ever done, far worse than I had any right to expect. Shame on them.
For a clue as to what you’re getting into here, just check some of the song titles. “Elysian Feels.” “Divinity.” “Guru Song.” “The Galaxial Pharmaceutical.” Or, worst of all, “The Mello Hippo Disco Show.” These are all bullshit. The Isness doesn’t even attempt to recreate the occasional splendor that was British psychedelia, it just lamely and unflatteringly rips it off, throwing in glockenspiel and flute as if those elements alone make the sound “trippy,” and therefore interesting. Nothing here builds, nothing has any drama, nothing assaults or moves or challenges, it just unapologetically sounds all hippy-dippy. By trying to make psychedelic music, but neither trying to build on it or even respect its original spirit, The Isness is something more than bad. It’s almost offensive. I happen to enjoy early Pink Floyd, and I hugely admire the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” (two major and obvious influences on a lot of the music here), and I don’t appreciate having them reduced to this. And even when they do throw in a new element, a beat or a sample, it comes off sounding like a bargain-bin acid jazz compilation. What a mess. What a godforsaken mess.
I still can’t believe that this is the album these two enormously talented men put out. Wait… let me check the label again…