Noah and the Whale ‘Last Night on Earth’ – Review

11 Mar

Bob Dylan made the ultimate break up album with ‘Blood on the Tracks’, but for his next album he made a radical change, releasing ‘Desire’, a collection of strange stories set to exotic and ambitious music. He worked on the lyrics with a collaborator for the first time and for most of the album he managed to sing about anything but his divorce. I mention this as ‘Desire’ set the benchmark for the post break up album, album.  Since then it’s been fairly common for bands to follow-up their ‘Blood on the Tracks’ with something completely unrelated to broken hearts and that is exactly what Noah and the Whale have done with ‘Last Night on Earth’.

Like ‘Desire’, ‘Last Night on Earth’ ditches the introspective honesty for songs that tell stories; stories about disillusioned slags, hopeful teenagers and lots of people on the run. Perhaps most tellingly there is a sense of starting over, forgetting about the past and remembering that life goes on (as one of the song titles reminds us). Bruce Springstein and Tom Petty have obviously been huge influences on the lyrical style of the album, and musically as well Noah and the Whale borrow some of that wide eyed American ambition. Gospel singers add colour to many of these songs and instrumentally there is a lot going on, which is a turn around from the quiet subtilty of ‘First Days of Spring’, their last album.

And what an album that was, one of my favourites of 2009. It’s obvious from fairly early on that ‘Last Night on Earth’ can’t match that record simply because it’s too calculated and objectively distant. The stories are interesting but they are not heart tugging; this time Fink plays the role of journalist rather than diarist. The music hits all the right spots but I get the sense that It’s been done before and it’s been done better. It doesn’t help that the production feels very cheep; the band have played mainly acoustically in the past and the change to synths and drum machines clearly doesn’t sound entirely like a comfortable fit.

Still, turn a blind eye to some trite lyrics here and some cheesy production there and it’s incredibly easy to  like this album because the songs are so damn catchy and uplifting. ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N’ has alright been A-listed on Radio 1 and it’s not hard to see why, listening to it makes me think summer has come months early. ‘Waiting For My Chance to Come’, ‘Life is Life’ and ‘Tonight Could be the Night’ are some more cheery numbers that remind me of ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ era Cat Stevens. The best songs however are the ones that stick more closely to what Noah and the Whale do best; downbeat melancholy. Not that these songs are miserable in the same was that ‘First Day’s of Spring’s darker songs were but ‘Old Joy’ and ‘Wild Thing’ have a knowing sadness that reminds me of that album. But even these songs are tinged with hope and overall it’s hard to think of a more upbeat album than ‘Last Night on Earth’, which I never thought I’d say about a band who only last year were the dreariest group at any festival.

Following an album as well received as ‘First Days of Spring’ was always going to be tricky; it would have been very easy for them to make a copy cat album, or easier still to return to the nu-folk of their debut, especially as Mumford and Sons continue to have amazing (and rather head scratching) success. Along with Mystery Jets, The Horrors and Arctic Monkeys, Noah and the Whale have proven to be one of the most unpredictable and consistently imaginative UK acts of the last decade. I have no idea where they will go next but you can be fairly certain that it will be somewhere new and exciting.



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