I recently found myself watching a National Geographic documentary about the 1986 Challenger disaster. I was nine years old when that tragedy unfolded over Florida. I remember vividly watching it on Newsround when I got home from school and again on the evening news with my father. I hadn’t realised until I watched the film, but that was probably the first time I became aware of death. It also seemed to end my fascination with all things space and science fiction, which had been an obsession thanks to growing up with the Star Wars movies.
Rupert Lally’s Forgotten Futures reminded me of that day and that life pivot. The premise of Lally’s album, originally recorded for Lost Futures magazine, was to look back on his own childhood in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As he acknowledges, memory is a troublesome companion – whereas, at the time, we might have been filled with hope, optimism and the dreams of a thousand possible futures, with the benefit of hindsight we often see things differently. So it was for Lally while recording Forgotten Futures. On the title track we find him running through a list of futuristic visions that all seemed possible back then, but which now seem fanciful and a long way out of reach – except for TVs in kitchens and slightly limited approximations of smart homes – brings to mind how utterly disappointing those exciting versions of the future actually were. (Growing up, my vision of the future was basically informed by the Smash mashed potato adverts. The future has definitely not lived up to those expectations.)
This is undoubtedly one of Lally’s most introspective albums. Not dark, per se, but certainly more questioning and reflective than some of his other material. Pieces like ‘Everything We Leave Behind’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ have an unresolved, restless and often thwarted dimension to them. Central to those tracks, and in fact every track on the album, is an undulating, queasy edge to the sounds as if each one has had its pitch changed in real-time. A a plot device, that technique is a useful way of evoking how memories become less certain over time, how they change, and how we question their accuracy through the lens of contemporaneity. For me, that sound nostalgically reminds me of buying a battered 7-inch of ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’ by Human League. The electronic horn melody on that song sounds a little out-of-tune at the best of times, but when your copy of the single is warped so badly that the vinyl looks like a circular walk through hills and valleys, any sense of euphoria in that riff is brutally suppressed. It remains one of my most disappointing charity shop purchases.
‘The Lost Places’ finds Lally recounting a dream where he revisits the town of his childhood – the architecture, the restaurant he’d visit with his father, the supermarket he frequented with his mother and the basement carpark beneath that still fills him with fear. His delivery is detached and uncertain, reflecting that recurring idea of a disappointed nostalgia and how our memories deal with joy and trauma over time. It is a deeply personal – yet completely relatable – moment, and one that seems to unlock the critical sentiment of this ruminative album.
Forgotten Futures by Rupert Lally was released May 6 2022.
Words: Mat Smith
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