Review: Funeral for a Friend – Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation

While I get the impression that they’re not particularly huge Stateside, Funeral for a Friend are consistently selling out some of the top clubs in the country back home, and almost anyone with some interest in the alternative scene has something nice to say about them. This was the album that kick-started it all, back when screaming was new and all the rage. Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation is an excellent album. It was highly lauded even by commercial radio and plastered all across the terrestrial TV channels. Even considering the relentless waves of 3rd, 4th, 5th etc. generation bands following the template here, the album still stands tall atop of many recent releases due to the quality of the music on offer, and even though FFAF may have strayed from the style that started their career, this is still a landmark album in modern British rock music.

Matt Davies’ clean vocals haven’t quite reached the strengths that they would reach in the next few albums. They’re a little more strained and a little more raw, and show that this was a band still finding their feet. Ryan Richards’ heavier vocals are much more pronounced in this album than they would ever be again, and as a result, the album feels considerably tougher and angrier. Maybe it’s the angst of youth, maybe it’s the eagerness of a debut album, or maybe it’s the fact that we hadn’t all gotten bored of this style at this point, but this album carries a lot of rage within its 50 minute lifespan. “I want to snap your neck in two and leave you for dead,” screams Richards on “She Drove Me To Daytime Television.” “Bullet Theory” contains the words “Take a gun called hate up against your heart and pull the trigger.” While the lyrics may seem a little cliched, the message couldn’t be clearer. The lyrics are often somewhat contrived in this manner — after all, this is a debut release from a relatively inexperienced band. However, there’s an honesty to what they’re doing, and sending my mind back to 2003, I can easily recall my 17-year-old mind being amazed by ideas that hadn’t been saturated to the point of suffocating all meaning.

The instruments on this album are well-played. While there are glimpses of the intricacies that Kris Roberts would hone on later releases, most evidently on “Red Is The New Black,” it is, for the most part, more functional than outstanding. It provides a strong framework to the interplay between Davies and Richards’ dueling vocal styles. Indeed, the weaker songs are those that fail to exploit this strong relationship fully, such as the closer “Novella.” The ballad included in this album, “Your Revolution Is A Joke,” rarely has an instrument unaccompanied and is stronger for the focus on Davies’ vocals, the violin in the background adding more poignancy to his raw and undeveloped tone. Here again, the anger burns through, with Davies singing “we stand to fight for nothing” and proclaiming that the revolution is a joke. This is not simply the anger of youth, but it’s anger at the ineffectualness of the anger of youth, which is pretty philosophical when you manage to get your head around it.

However, as with all good rock bands, the best songs are the ones that rock the hardest. Lead single “Juneau” is still a fan favorite, with an excellent intro riff and a brilliantly full sound. Heavier cuts such as “She Drove Me to Daytime Television” and “Red Is the New Black” bubble with teenage angst that FFAF could still legitimately connect with at this point and poppier tracks like “Storytelling” and “Waking Up” are insanely catchy. They’re not all winners — “Bullet Theory” and “Bend Your Arms To Look Like Wings” are lacking in imagination and “Novella” is almost ruined by a slow-burning ending that is more damp squib than spark.

In general though, this is a very strong album. One of the few truly successful British forays into the harder side of emo before it went the way of all things and became exploited as the next commercial thing. As a retrospective review, it’s hard to see it in its contemporary setting, which represented a more original sound than it appears to us nowadays. However, it remains a benchmark for modern British outfits, partly because the band themselves are so well-loved that everyone wants to emulate them, but also partly because it’s such a strong album. Anyone who hasn’t managed to check it out, for whatever reason, should definitely spend some time getting to know it.

Final Verdict: 9/10

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