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Something clearly went wrong with Charlie Fink. The previous album of his band (Noah and the Whale's- Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down) seemed upbeat- the highlight of the album, 5 Years Time, was a happy little number, which appeared on Match of the Day 2 a fair few times. Okay, there were a few dark moments, but something clearly happened to make the next album a bit more, well, melancholic.
That's it- in these stories, it's always a girl. Laura Marling, one time member of the band, and Charlie Fink split it. So Charlie got out his guitar and his piano, and out went his ukelele (it's hard to write slow songs on those anyway), and he wrote The First Days of Spring.
And what an album it is. It's a narrative of after the end of a relationship (most of the songs are heart-breaking, so I won't mention it while talking about every song), going from the start of the end, to the inevitable acceptance of the death of the relationship, via some heady optimism. It's mainly an orchestral album, with a few stripped down tracks, some laid on with strings, but all with emotion- bare or not.
The first song, the title track, is an allusion the break up. Lyrically it's heart-breaking (oops): "like a cut down tree, I will rise again, I'll be bigger and stronger than ever before... I'll still be here, hoping that one day you may come back". It builds into an almighty crescendo, dies down, then into a huge emotional crescendo at the end. Affecting is an understatement. He clearly liked Ms Marling.
The album rows along gently, poignantly, with mentronomes, backing choirs, trumpets and the kitchen sink, but without sounding too overblown or understated. The gentle plucking and pensive strings of My Broken Heart give way to a guitar solo at the end with Fink lamenting "you can break my broken heart".
Bizarrely, there's an upbeat sandwich in the middle. As most albums will have the token ballad somewhere, this melancholic album has a token upbeat song. Not that it's token, come to think of it: sandwiched between Instrumentals I & II is the choir-led Love of an Orchestra. It's been said that it would make a decent Coca-Cola Christmas advert jingle, and I couldn't agree more. It's upbeat, and a nice break from the emotion.
Stranger is much like My Broken Heart, but gives the narrative of Fink being guilty of sleeping with someone after the break up. It sounds like he's just got home from the event, picked up the guitar, and got his mates round to play in the orchestra. "I don't believe my conscience will ever be clear again", he sings.
Blue Skies is one of the singles of the album and highly uplifiting yet also emotional. It seems optimism has hit Mr Fink by now: dedicating the song to anyone who has a broken heart, he assures them that "Blue skies are coming, but I know that it's hard". Building up to the guitar solo with backing choir, you really want to believe him. "This is the last song that I write while I'm still in love with you"- so is the positivity coming from resignation and acceptance?
The last song, My Door Is Always Open, is his resignation of losing her, and a great ending to the album.
The album sounds depressing, but it's not. It's uplifting, and it's a truly emotional experience. One gripe is that Slow Glass is a very odd addition to the album, completely out of sync emotionally, lyrically, and musically.
I couldn't recommend this more. A film, made by Fink, was released with the album. I'm not quite ready to go through the emotion again.
Pete Doherty once said "the blood from broken hearts writes the words to every song". It seems he's right here. I don't know if thanking Laura Marling for the break up is callous, but without it, we wouldn't have this album, and the world would be a little poorer.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The First Days Of Spring
2 Our Window
3 I Have Nothing
4 My Broken Heart
5 Instrumental I
6 Love Of An Orchestra
7 Instrumental II
9 Blue Skies
10 Slow Glass
11 My Door Is Always Open