Francis Harold And The Holograms – “Who Said These Were Happy Times” Album Review

Rock and roll is best left grimy and greasy. Any attempt at the pro-tooled, slickly-stylised leanings of American pop-rock is to be resisted at all costs because it strips the music of its one essential characteristic – feeling. Francis Harold and the holograms have no such worries. While they may not rival Dimmu Borgir in the proficiency stakes, they are, at heart, a stripped down rock n roll band thriving off beer fumes and the last fag in the packet. Theirs is the searing sound of overdriven guitars and knackered amps one step away from explosive retirement and the result is one of the dirtiest, most elemental rock albums you’ll hear all year.

The cheerily titled ‘who said these were happy times’ opens with the sound of flesh being wrenched from bone – all animalistic howls lost amidst a wall of distorted guitars. The whole thing sounds like it was recorded on a budget that would be hard pushed to fund a night out for a boy-scout troupe and yet it rocks like any number of better recorded albums on the market. Replacing production sheen with sweat and power is a masterstroke – after all this is the raw rock sound that producers such as Steve Albini make a mint off and one suspects that for Francis Harold et al this is far from a contrived attempt to regain their roots – this is what they sound like and God help you if you get in the way!

Punchy bass opens ‘glitter girls’ before the drummer attacks his crash with what sounds like a sledgehammer and everything gets lost in the haze. You can easily imagine that to see this band would be like walking into a hurricane such is the force of the guitars and the vocals aren’t so much sung as wrenched from the deepest realms of the subconscious and poured out into the music in a cathartic release of pent up aggression and stress.

While this is a fantastic album there are a couple of points that keep it from classic status. Firstly, while there is always a feeling of awe when in the presence of genuine rock and roll, ultimately this is not the most original racket ever. It’s powerful and the songs are memorably chaotic, but it’s not a million miles from the ground zero of Iggy’s ‘Raw Power’. Secondly the sheer relentless nature of the hyper-distorted sound can become wearing after a time if you’re not quite in the right frame of mind. These are minor niggles: ‘who said these were happy times’ is still a monstrous slab of primal rock, raw and unpretentious. It doesn’t pretend to offer answers or inspiration – instead it is the sound of a frenetic and powerful band pouring their hearts into the music they love and that can only be commended. A great album that keeps faith in a genre that happily refuses to expire – thoroughly recommended to those who like their music passionate rather than precise.

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