Noah And The Whale, ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.’

Noah And The Whale

Behind all the soft-pedal vulnerability of Noah And The Whale, there’s a ruthless core. How else would you explain a creative trajectory from folky tweeness to panoramic country-rock to FM drivetime over a piddling three albums? That rat Fink knows where he’s headed, but do we? I imagine it depends on Last Night On Earth’s eventual success. If Springsteen-lite gets the tills ringing, perhaps he’ll settle down.

After the unfocused Peaceful, He Lays Me Down and lovelorn First Days Of Spring, the latest is the least challenging of NATW’s albums, a robust chunk of pop that sounds great on the radio. This lead single uses an old trick – ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E.’, ‘Y.M.C.A.’, ‘L.O.V.E.’ etc – to get a point across in the catchiest way possible. It’s a cheap hook (and few things are more effective than a cheap hook), and a message that continues Fink’s personal story, letting us know he’s moving on from his cri de coeur over Laura Marling. That’s good news for her too; few women in pop have had to endure so much embarrassment, from a whole album mooning over her, to her next beau’s stupid moustache.

Speaking of which, did you hear the one about Laura Marling and the posh bloke with the silly voice? No, the other one…

“Is this your favourite?” Junior asks, because she’s heard me singing it over and over, because I can’t help it, because it carves its own cranny in your brain. I just tell her I can’t help it. She gives the song the wishy-washy thumbs and I wonder where it falls down. “Because it spells it.” The hook’s too cheap for some.

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[3] Al Green, ‘Let’s Stay Together’

Al Green

I thought we were tearing through 1972 too fast, and soon it would be 1973 and we’d be faced with ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree’ before you can say, ‘Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?’ Yes, I thought that. In any case, you can’t just steam in to talking about Reverend Green. You need to take it easy, kick back into the smooth groove, feel the warm embrace of the horn section, take your top off then put it back on when you realise you don’t share Al’s physique.

Things took a jarring turn when I played this, because Junior slapped her hands over her ears and refused to listen. She wanted Lady Gaga. “But,” I protested, “Al Green’s one of the greatest soul singers.” “No, he’s not,” came the smackdown.

Perhaps he’s not. I rather think he is, though; he sounds like he means it and can make you believe it, believe anything. Whether that’s the sign of a trickster, I don’t know, but his performance on ‘Let’s Stay Together’ is imbued with a conviction its lyric doesn’t quite share – if everything’s so tickety-boo in this relationship, why make a promise to keep it going? It should mosey on regardless.

[6] Sly & The Family Stone, ‘Everyday People’

And on the more circumspect side of the fence, funkmaster Sly and friends deliver the message with subtlety and oblique savvy. This isn’t just about colour – it’s rich man, poor man, fat man, thin man – but the context is irrelevant; everyone’s the same, and the word is all the more powerful for the freedom and joy the Family Stone put in to saying it. ‘Everyday People’ is swift, concise, blissful and propelled by the easiest horns this side of Al Green. When Arrested Development decided the track needed to be revisited in the ‘90s, they took the title line, flipped it, found ponderous beats and hectored us to within an inch of our patience. Sly knew that a bit of groove could sweeten any pill.

And it’s a groove to hook a little madam, who clapped along in time and, when the two minutes twenty-two seconds clipped by in a blink, announced “It’s gone”. And it is over all too soon, but it’s said as much as it’ll ever need to say.

[5] Texas, ‘Say What You Want’

When Texas first turned up with their worthy Americana it was the guitarist who was eulogised. He was tagged as a new axe hero for the kids, with Johnny Marr now out of the picture. Each record was duller than the last and soon the band fell right off the radar, presumably never to return.

Then, what do you know, they rolled up with this, with the pretty lady front and centre. A very 90s thing to do. The emphasis was off the big chords and onto the pattering groove and Sharleen’s breathy breaths.

Texas set about making the world’s coffee table their very own, but they’re a fondness of mine, with their safe songs and clean sheen. Altered Images veteran Johnny McElhone was now giving them a classic pop sound, an unashamed Fleetwood Mac-ish love of melody and glossy production. This song pilfers from Marvin Gaye and Al Green too, but Ms Spiteri has the chutzpah to carry it off.

Junior jealously guarded her own coffee table and rocked, but gently.