The whole ‘Night Of A Thousand Voices’ was not for me, I prefer singing along in the comfort of my own home where nobody can hear me. Not saying that it was not a brave and ambitious idea gathering together so many to have a croon and then record a release it and it seemed to be a good concept that paid off for all concerned. However, I skipped that one but a new studio album is another matter. We didn’t get sent this but I know several of our writers enthusiastically bought this at the first opportunity and I have to say it was great going into one of the few record shops bloody well left and seeing ‘From Here’ displayed on vinyl and CD hard-book directly opposite the main doors; well done Fopp!
Last studio album ‘Winter’ was several years ago and ‘From Here’ continues in line with the direction that the band has travelled down from the ‘Between Dog And Wolf’ cycle in 2013 moving in a more personal and some may say mature direction from ‘Today Is A Good Day.’ What that basically translates to is that this is an album of great song-writing, fantastic literary story-telling and an almost cinematic musical vision rather than delivering any obvious anthemic barnstormers. That’s not to say there is not plenty of motion and turbulence upon the way but if you are expecting any massive songs that stick in the head on the first listen such as No Rest, 51st State, Vagabonds (just to name a very few examples) you won’t necessarily find them here. This is an album that saw the band decamp from Bradford all the way to the icy terrain of Norway where they locked themselves away and came up with these 12 new songs. On first listen ‘From Here’ kind of went over my head but on playing it once a day since I got it the nuances and subtleties have substantially grown and formed with strength; as they embedded themselves it was obvious that they are rooted in the traditionalism we have all become accustomed to over the years and display everything that makes so many so passionate about this very special band in the first place.
Strength can come in many forms and youthful anger have led us through to a stage where 63 year old vocalist / guitarist Justin Sullivan can regale us with the wonders in his songs without doing so by hitting us with a musical brick-bat so to speak. It’s his voice along with an instant compulsive melody that we first hear narrating strongly over a synth line on ‘Passing Through.’ Things build slowly, a guitar line gradually joins and finally in a song that seems to be one of two distinct parts the drums. It’s a perfect introduction of what is to come and this would be a song one could easily see them play to open a gig too. The production is fantastic and the synthesis of players Monger, White, Dean and Gill seems totally natural. The band seem in total co-ordination and as the classic bass line and drums roll out on second number ‘Never Arriving’ it’s easy to see why Sullivan recently stated that the present incarnation of the band is as solid as ever and the best he has worked with. Each song here is its own story, there’s social commentary and personal experience each step of the way. As the songs grow in your head on repeated listen’s they will hit with the emotional power that NMA have always displayed. Some of the harmonies are absolutely fantastic and others via acoustic guitar segments build a bridge which rises to massive heights. No matter where us Brits go we always take ‘The Weather’ with us and as it and the sea are constant subject matters littering the group’s songs it is somewhat amusing to get a song about it. However, it’s a double-edged sword as despite its somewhat cheery disposition (and added orchestral elements) this is very much a cautionary tale once you take in the lyrical content. This ties in perfectly with first single ‘End Of Days’ a tribal beat and apocalyptic sense sees this one building to as close to a barnstormer as you will find here with its rousing chorus and clog-stomping demeanour. I’m glad I’m listening in comfort of own home as it’s nigh on impossible not to be singing along.
The shimmering guitar cadence on ‘Great Disguise’ sends shivers down my spine every-time I play the song now, its like getting a gorgeous but not painful electric jolt each time it strums and it seems like each and every song has some nuance that will endear the listener to it. The glistening shard like guitar melody on ‘Conversation’ being another prime example and part of the subtle magic going on within the songcraft. ‘Where I Am’ is a positively happy number with jangling guitar refrain that sings out classic number from the very rooftops. It puts a big shit eating grin on my face and is the perfect counterpoint to the more introspective and very thoughtful sounding ‘Hard Way.’ Again though this is a song of two parts and the sombre fashion rises to a massive crescendo that I can imagine it taking your breath away live.
A game many fans of the band will no doubt play is trying to compare new songs to old and sure you will probably spot the odd one like the opening guitar strum on ‘Watch Alone’ sounding a bit ‘Poison Street.’ It’s all part of the fun and from there the song takes another very different path. Cello and timpani drums make ‘Maps’ a real voyage of discovery but the thing that really took me by surprise here are the lower, husky tones of the vocals on the first part of ‘Setting Sun,’ Justin seems like he is trying something very different here indeed. This is a hugely emotional hour’s-worth of music and when the title track puts it to rest the one thing on my mind is looking forward to the next time I play the album. Sometimes cramming something to get it reviewed in a timely fashion can be derogative to it but not here in the slightest, now I can kick back and enjoy it on another level knowing that I will treasure each and every play and not get bored of this in the slightest, probably not for many years to come. Special mention should also be given to Joolz Denby for the as ever fantastic artwork here.
I know another aforementioned writer would personally have given this a top score and I expect with more time I may well be going down that route; as it stands though ‘I’m erring with the side of caution but as ever with this band any mark is given with the added bonus of passion, thanks and love!!
(9/10 Pete Woods)