New Model Army - Anthology - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

New Model Army - Anthology

by Steve Rhodes Rating:7 Release Date:2010-11-15

It's hard to believe that New Model Army have been going, largely uninterrupted, for 30 years. Led by Justin Sullivan, they have been ploughing a neo-folky, rock-based furrow from their debut album, 1984's 'Vengeance', to last years' Today is a Good Day, with songs and lyrics of often deep political undertones. They have flirted occasionally with the mainstream, but while times may have changed around them, they have maintained a fairly consistent approach to their songwriting.

This double CD anthology dips into a wide range of their back catalogue. 'Vengeance' is an apt opener and nearly 30 years later it still packs a powerful message. Driving, chiming guitars, militant drums, spiky bass and a clarion call of "I believe in justice, I believe in vengeance" adds up to a terrific opener and one of highlights of their career. Their earliest recordings are well represented here with the sparse 'A Liberal Education', the poppy 'Drag it Down' and the incendiary 'Christian Militia' being the standouts, but probably their best period is from the late 80s and early 90s.

With the excellent linking track of 'Whitecoats', songs such as 'Green and Grey', 'Purity' and 'Vagabonds', signal an increase in standards of production and a move towards more plaintive territory. This period was more dramatic and earthy, often adding strings and keys to the mix and a heightening of atmosphere. Though songs such as 'Here Comes the War', with its frenetic pace and clarion calls, reflected the past, one of the best examples of the new guard was 'Living in the Rose', a slow-building ballad, heavy in atmospherics, released during the times of grunge, that fitted well on the edges. It's just a shame that two of their best songs of this era 'Get Me Out' and 'Space' are missing here. However, Anthology's closer, 1992's 'Marry the Sea' is probably the highlight of the whole compilation. It is a delightfully serene, drumless, orchestral and relaxed end to the compilation.

The few songs that are pulled from 1998's Strange Brotherhood and 2000's Eight are rather forgettable, with the exception of The Tindersticks-esque 'Someone Like Jesus', but do show a further mellowing of the band, emphasised by the much improved choices from 2005's Carnival. 'Bluebeat', with its heavy use of organs and strings, the added xylophone on the oriental sounding 'Red Earth' and the straight-edged and snail-paced 'Carlisle Road' are an excellent representation of New Model Army's more recent recordings and are well worth repeated listens.

New Model Army have influenced a number of like-minded artists who have leaned heavily on their sound but often not their message, and have tended to be more successful in their careers. It is easy to forget though how important New Model Army were and still are in British music. Anthology is a decent compilation covering their prolific career and shows that there is a lot more to them than just crusty and spiky wordsmiths with a penchant for history.

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