New Model Army - High
Bill Cummings 28/10/2007
Mention Bradford leftists New Model Army to me and the first song that comes to mind is "The Valleys of Green and Gray" appearing on a compilation made by a friend, it hit me from the first play, a rain soaked dark folk rock strum through the alienated northern landscapes, it dealt in separation, loss and a deep longing that exists in the satellite towns of England. In lead singer Justin Sullivan they had a unique vocalist, every word was cried out with passionate pleading: every note plunging deep into the well of his heart.
Twenty six years on from their formation, and now a five-piece after multiple line up changes, hundreds pf miles on the road and various musical evolutions (from post punk, to folk rock, goth, to politico metal), they are now joined on guitar by blues man Marshall Gill for their tenth new release "High." While their only comparable peers The Levellers increasingly plundered the hippy guitar folk pop sound, then in the 80s in particular New Model Army produced material of a little darker hew, a little more substantial, coming up with an evolution in sound with each passing record, but having heard their rather limp last album the question before I pressed play was after ten album's how much of “High” would still be a reflection of that evolution, and how much would of it be a proficient modern retread of their past works?
Well, It starts promisingly enough “Wired” is a energetic, rock trot through windswept landscapes under metal skies, while the title track is one of the standouts, a rhythm that sways delightfully, metallic strums and descriptive naturalistic lyrics, that give way towards a heart on the sleeve chorus that questions the vacuous dominant messages of our leaders, and its delivered with utter conviction (“The movers move the shakers shake/ the winners, write their history/But from high on the high hills it all looks like nothing. ”) Another highlight comes later on the moody downtempo “Sky In Your Eyes” which gently revels in its historical grounding, Sullivan's now spoken vocals are recited like a poem of real honesty embellished with exquisitely beautiful imagery. While one of the latter track “Nothing Dies Easy” is perhaps Sullivan's self affirmation to himself and his band, reminding me briefly of the Clash's “Straight To Hell” in its final echoed notes (“Nothing Dies easy.”)
Elsewhere this album runs into problems, the standard New Model Army formula here is a modern take on the sound they established produced more successfully on some of their previous albums: powerfully rendered, vaguely '80s sounding brisk folk rock full of passionate paganism and politically questioning ideas (the soundtrack to a march towards Stone Henge at the Summer Salstis with a spear in hand or a dog on a string?) Whilst this is all delivered with a real energy and passion, it does rather pale and merge into one on repeated listens, in fact it's produced so often that it occasionally lurches into self-parody, for example on the alienated 9-5 strum of “Into the Wind.”
New Model Army's new album “High” has its moments of real quality, moments where the dying embers of one of outsider rock real survivors flickers in their eyes. But as a consistent piece of work it falls down, too often it relies on what is comfortable well-trodden ground for them. An enjoyable album, but nothing that will really alter anybody's view of New Model Army as a band, maybe they wouldn't have it any other way?