“we can’t go back to uninvent the wheels that we ride”
New Model Army’s 15th studio album is finally upon us, three years on from the wonderful Winter, probably my favourite album of theirs since The Love of Hopeless Causes – released all the way back in 1993 – and expectations were comprehensibly high; with what in my opinion was such a hard act to follow, would their new effort manage to stay at the same level or would it necessarily end up being a disappointment? And if so, how big of one would it be? Unlike some of their previous albums, this was written and recorded in a very short time – the writing was apparently done over only 2 months and then the band holed themselves up in a studio on a tiny Norwegian island, where all the recording was done in a paltry nine days. The idea was for it to have one particular sound and atmosphere running through it, influenced by the surrounding environment: the bleak, rugged landscape of a Nordic island, practically only made of water, snow and rock and in constant change because of the time of the year the band spent there (the beginning of March, at the end of the long Norwegian winter and with the very earliest signs of spring beginning to appear).
In this respect New Model Army certainly achieved their objective, the album is quite uniform in the soundscapes and atmospheres it evokes, which tie in quite nicely with the running themes of change (not necessarily always positive), movement, travel and passing of time that permeate the songs. As usual, I’ve had to give From Here quite a few listens before I could start to form an opinion about it, and even now – two weeks after its release – I’m not certain said opinion won’t change again in time, especially once I’ve seen the new songs performed in the upcoming tour to promote it (the band are always at their best on stage, and in lots of instances in the past I only ever really ‘got’ a particular song after hearing it performed live).
Saying that, I can fairly confidently say that while I don’t think it reaches the peaks of Winter (yet, at least) I am not disappointed in the slightest: From Here is a strong album, featuring twelve well-constructed and superbly played and arranged songs that seamlessly follow from one another; the lyrics are insightful and poetic as usual, and like I said mainly deal with change (in people as well as things) seen through the prisms of travel and the passing of time. Particular favourites of mine at the moment are the two singles, Never Arriving and (particularly) End of Days, as well as Where I Am and Watch and Learn, the latter two possibly being the most ‘trademark’ NMA tracks of the album in terms of sound and song structure. Do I have to find fault? Well, I suppose if I really must I could say that there don’t appear to be obvious ‘hits’, songs that will instantly lodge themselves in the mind of the listener and stay there; and a couple of the tracks may have been drawn out slightly longer than they could have; but none of it hampers the enjoyment of the album or diminish its worth in any way.
by Danny T