New Model Army
ew Model Army—much beloved by some, much despised by ... well, everyone else, it seems. Quite where this level of polarisation stems from is difficult to accurately pin down. In truth, there are a fair few aspects of the band that could provoke niggling irritation. Maybe it’s their uncompromising (and sometimes rather confusing) vigilante politics. Possibly it’s their hilltop fire-loving, Mother Earth-worshipping, pseudo-technophobia. Or perhaps it’s just because they’ve been spotted near The Levellers a few times too many.
Well, whatever. The rallying-cry bombast might be objectionable to those who feel they’re being preached at, but earnest, seething anger at global injustice is precisely what I’m looking for in a fresh NMA release. Pickings should be bountiful; there isn’t exactly a scarcity of material to work with at the moment. Had album production occurred slightly later in the year, we might have been treated with a re-recorded version of “Vengeance” dedicated to Captain Clusterfuck himself, Michael Brown. Let’s all try acting as competently as him at our jobs this week, shall we? And we’ll see who remains in work and on full pay by the end of the week (hint: only the guy who fabricated his CV and fumbled a tricky assignment involving horse shows).
Ah yes, horses. I’ll get off this dizzyingly high one now.
So yes, there’s idiocy in the corridors of power, corruption brewing in the UN soup kitchen, army men strewn across the sandpit and terrorism in the understairs cupboard. Plenty to be pissed off about. A little disheartening, then, that NMA wait until four Carnival tracks in to break into caustic assault mode. Nonetheless, the one-two combo of nervous lament and guitar wall onslaught that drives “Carlisle Road” through a grim tale of social breakdown finally kicks off an impressive sequence. “Red Earth” employs a similar structural approach for it’s impassioned call to arms, and “Too Close to the Sun” distracts with teasing beauty before delivering the sharp slap of environmental collapse.
This chunk of worthy rabble-rousing, rounded off by “Another Imperial Day” (amongst other things, a prolonged jab at Britain’s hypocritical deportation of political asylum seekers to such wonderful safe-havens as Iraq and Zimbabwe), forms the album’s solid core. What surrounds this focused centre can feel a little flabby at times though, especially if you turned up for some fist-pumping progressive zeal. Entirely excused from this criticism is “Fireworks Night,” the tribute to the late Robert Heaton—which closes the album with majestic grace and the heartfelt emotion of genuine friendship.
Whether music has ever engineered social change is open to all and sundry to question. Whether any of NMA’s tunes ever have is surely answerable with a clear “no.” This kind of means-end thinking misses the point. “Another Imperial Day” clearly isn’t going to alter UK law, but it, and other tracks like it, create a sense of unity and audience bond. Things are wrong, the songs say. Things need changing—and in those moments, in those vital listening seconds, it feels like maybe they could. It feels like we could finally work this mess out and raise our voices in a fight for something resembling justice, together. And then, with closing bars or a lengthy fade-out, that feeling ends.
Nothing has been achieved, you might say. But what a rush. What a reminder of everything at fault with the world, forcing us to turn and face the anger and frustration and hopelessness inside. One day, that just might spur people into action. That’s what I hear flashes of in Carnival. Flashes of inspirational determination that just fall short of being a cohesive whole. It wins skirmishes, it may even possess enough fighting spirit to win battles—but unlike Oliver’s original army, it can’t quite win the war.