- Mon, 2011-02-14 13:02
Noah And The Whale’s last outing – 2009’s The First Days Of Spring – was an album inspired by the break-up of singer Charlie Fink’s long-term relationship. Saturated with regret, it was dominated by baldly honest, heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics and largely soft, contemplative music. Fink was exploring his wounds, but they were tender and he was doing so tentatively.
The follow-up album, Last Night On Earth, could not be more different. The gently bubbling synths of the free-to-download Wild Thing, and the album’s Americana-infused, Tom Petty-recalling first single L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. made it clear that Fink and co. were headed for new ground, but the extent to which they had departed from the introspection of times past was not fully revealed.
The change in spirit and sound between The First Days Of Spring and Last Night On Earth can be summed up in the lyrics of the new album’s first and last songs. Life Is Life begins “He used to be somebody, and now he’s someone else, he took apart his old life and left it on the shelf…he’s going to change his ways,” while the album’s finale centres on the lyric “day by day old joy comes back to me.” Though neither song is presented as autobiographical, it is hard to believe that they don’t betray something of Fink’s psychology whilst making this album, and this newfound positivity is as ever-present on Last Night On Earth as the melancholy was on its predecessor.
Perhaps the most overtly uplifting addition to the party is a gospel choir, featured on Life Is Life, Tonight’s The Kind Of Night and Old Joy. The former places it alongside slabs of bass-synth, a piano-part reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland and strutting electric drums, while Tonight’s The Kind Of Night is a U2-meets-The Killers road trip with bright piano chords and a host of guitar and synth lines weaving in and out of each other. It is on the album-closing Old Joy that the choir comes to the fore though, ringing out over Fink’s heavily echoing vocal and a simple, unflustered instrumental backing.
Elsewhere Fink amuses us by sharing childhood tales. Give It All Back is Noah And The Whale’s answer to Bryan Adams’ Summer Of ’69, detailing Fink’s first foray into rock and roll as a bored kid. A dancing xylophone is joined by flurries of claps and harmonised rock guitars play the occasional lick before the chorus rolls in, so breezy and carefree that it makes you want to pump the air and join in at the top of your voice. Just Before We Met smiles wryly at misjudged haircuts and misguided attempts to attract the opposite sex as chirpy violins and a harpsichord bounce along to taut bass.
It’s not all fun and games though; the band still have time for more contemplative moments. The brief instrumental Paradise Stars is reflective in tone, though quietly content, while The Line tells a sad story of a lost soul, but allows hope shines through in the swaying strings and skittering synths.
On Last Night On Earth we find Fink completely cured of his broken heart. Gone are the sad meditations on the cruelty of love and the loneliness of the world, and in their place are a series of mostly cheerful and whimsical stories. The band respond to his change in his disposition, and where previously violins had sighed with sympathy as Fink strummed his rueful chords, now they flitter and flirt, joined by guitars, synths and any number of other instruments chipping in with their playful tuppence. What we are left with is joyful, widescreen folk-rock with a hint of the eighties, delivered in Noah And The Whale’s typical humble manner, and it’s really rather good.