The Players: Justin Sullivan: vocals, guitar, harmonica; Nelson: bass, vocals; Dean White: keyboards, guitar; Michael Dean: drums, percussion; Marshall Gill: guitar.
Material: New Model Army has been dubbed a punk band. Don't you believe it! Their material runs the gamut of rock and Brit-folk music for the past thirty years. It may have an edge which is inspired by working-class political leanings, but it's not a temper tantrum tirade against the grownups. It is a reasoned, and impassioned– if sometimes intimidating– demand for equal rights. Songs like "Arm Yourselves and Run" and the anti-anthemic "Here Comes the War," present the darker side of human nature by asking, "Did you think we were born in peaceful times?" whilst begging in the name of the world's children, "give us our fair share, give us justice!" Conversely, "Today is a Good Day" (about the Wall St. crash of '08) is a heavy metal celebration of the comeuppance of those who believed, "...these rules are only sophistry, they don't apply to me."
Musicianship: The old classified ad, "Trashy guitarist wanted– must have at least six months experience," certainly doesn't apply to this punk band; the musicianship of everyone in this band is excellent– mind you, the core of the band has been around since 1980. Not only do they play well, but the arrangements make the most of the lyrics. Unlike many other exponents of the early art/punk movement– Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, Lou Reed etc., there is a dedication here to, not just politics, but the aesthetics of the poetry, and– dare I say it– the sound; the music sounds beautiful. Despite thinly repressed anger at the injustices of this world, there is a sadness, a complexity to the thought process which Sullivan's untrained (Richard Thompson-like) voice captures perfectly. This broken toothed 'spiritual warrior' rants, cajoles, whines and bellows from a place which exacts empathy, requires it... incites it, even– along with a host of other emotions. And yet, amongst the heaviness and the power, there appears briefly sometimes a lovely innocence which (almost) evokes a Spinal Tap moment.
Performance: This is a serious music band whose live performance sounds as clean and well rehearsed as their album does. Their potent and meaningful choruses can provoke a powerful response from the audience– which was all well and good until a few over the hill ex-punks decided to create a mosh pit in the center of an otherwise non violent crowd last night, sending people flying all around them, until many members of the audience retreated to the back of the auditorium. It is perplexing that music of such sophistication should evoke such thoughtless and aggressive behavior.
Summary: It is not clear whether the behavior of a few audience members at the Mercury Lounge last Thursday is typical for a New Model Army gig. They are a significant and long lasting band who has been around the world, signed to the majors, and now finds themselves an indy outfit again. They have a checkered and fascinating past and are well worth hearing. As to live performances– if you are not put off by (really) rowdy crowds... please go ahead and see them. Otherwise, they have a great new album called, "Today is a Good Day."
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