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Does music ever really change anything? An interesting point and before you forty something's start ranting on about the punk movement of the late seventies, stop and think, did it? Playing in a band and making albums is a very good way of getting your point across and from the 60's right up until the present day it has long been used as a platform from which to broadcast our grievances. Punk may have changed the way some people thought, maybe even changed the lives of those on the scene but lets remember that the original scene lasted only two or three years and contained a very small amount of bands and fans, its imagined legacy is much bigger than its actual presence at the time. Society didn't fall, ministers weren't ousted from office and the world seemed to carry on into the downward spiral that we see today. The passionate pleas of politically conscious, socially marginalized and environmentally concerned have faded again, to be replaced by and large with the old throwaway musical subject matter, but as a wise man once said "there's more to life than cars and girls." It is with this in mind that I look forward to any release by New Model Army, for the very reason that they are one of the few bands that still care enough to be raging at the state of the world. It may be unfashionable to be socially aware in these days of dumbing down and re-branding but as it becomes apparent that those at the top of the system care very little for anything but themselves, the importance of bands like New Model Army only increases.
New Model Army have always been something of an underground band, though if measured in album sales or sheer tribal devotion of the fans would surprise many at their popularity, its just that being that money and chart position are things that are of little concern to the band, they are sometimes hard to spot in the corporate world of "selling units" and "hit singles". The release of Carnival, therefore, like most of their albums, probably made very little impact on the uninitiated, more is the pity. Having built the band up into some sort of political muso-terrorists, "Water" comes as a bit of an out of character introduction to the album, but if there is one thing that you can predict with this band, its their unpredictability. Although all of the musical components seem to be there, fast complex pounding drumbeats, phased out walls of guitar noise, building tension and screaming solos, the subject matter is not. Then I guess you don't have to be angry all of the time and instead we are treated to a song about the physical nature of the human being and its place in the natural scheme of things. The driving tribal bass of BD3 seems reminiscent of their last album "Eight" particularly the mesmerising "Leeds Road 3am". No less full of solid guitar work than the opening number, this seems darker and more driven. One of the things that the band has always done well is to embrace different beats and timings and still come across with an album with a cohesive identity. The almost funky bounce to "Prayer Flags" in many ways is a departure from what we have heard so far, but all the trade mark elements are still there, the chanted anthem chorus, the almost dance fuelled groove, the time changes and the worldly wise voice of Justin Sullivan, all leave their distinctive mark on the song until there can be no doubt who is responsible for this creation.
With three tracks gone, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that the band have finally tired of shouting the odds and have found some sort of contentment and then, with a false sense of security established "Carlisle Road" breaks the spell. Slow, full of pent up aggression, socially aware and masterfully delivered the song wanders between a naked wistful voice and drumbeat and a full wall if guitar noise. Angry crowd noises invade the song adding to the almost frightening atmosphere. There are many gothic bands out there that could learn a lot hear about the art of delivering tension fuelled songs, its not all about turning the amplifier up to eleven and wearing scary make up after all, here you walk on shattered glass as they deliver a grime tale of social breakdown. "Red Earth" is a slow building percussion driven diatribe, that slowly comes majestically to fruition with the crashing in of big guitars and lyrics bile soaked and spat in fury at the world. It seems the passion hasn't left the singer after twenty years or more of being the guardian of our consciences. Environmental concerns are expressed in the well structured and cleverly crafted "Too Close to the Sun", power is mixed with subtleties, driven beats with restraint, aggression with beauty making an unpredictable song that twists and turns and offers something new with every corner it takes.
Always offering something new, "Bluebeat" combines a reggae drum beat with overdriven guitars and here a harmonica seems to be the focal point of the song and as Justin sings "there's always something new to fall in love with" you know that he's not arrogant enough to be referencing the album, but you would not only forgive him if he was, but totally agree with him. "Another Imperial Day" is based in an area that the band has always felt strongly about. Delivered as an almost spoken piece over driven guitar rhythms, they sing about, amongst other things, a prolonged jab at Britain's hypocritical deportation of political asylum seekers to such safe-havens as Iraq and Zimbabwe. This is the sort of song that should make people think about the world, but whilst NMA stand in near isolation as a mouth piece and the Sun and the Daily Mail remain as the most popular newspapers in the UK, then their voice will be largely drowned out by apathy and more trivial events. The album is rounded off with the wonderful "Fireworks Night" a tribute to Sullivan's friend and fellow band member, Robert Heaton, now sadly no longer with us but a driving force and important part in the early NMA story. A graceful and beautiful song dripping with genuine emotion but still with the full-on delivery you come to expect from the band.
The band may have aged since bursting onto the vibrant post punk scene of the early eighties, they may not be quite so obviously ranting at those in power, quite so in your face and punchy, but there is still a depth of passion that isn't found these days in many bands. Their music is still powerful and pleading, honest, heartfelt and genuine and they still carry that same torch. Maybe music doesn't change the world, but it can make people think, make them feel guilty even and if enough people start asking the same questions, start demanding real answers, then maybe a change will come. Even if it doesn't, well at least they tried, who can ask anything more and not least they created some fantastic music along the way.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 Prayer Flags
4 Carlisle Road
5 Red Earth
6 Too Close To The Sun
8 Another Imperial Day
11 Fireworks Night