Confusion. This was my overriding feeling the first time I listened tothe debut album of the Birmingham-turned-London band Koala. More mix tapethan album it seemed, with an utterly random smattering of glam, punk, pop,atmospheric rock and electronica. At first it was difficult to know exactlywhat to make of it.
Repeated listens though meant that the best tracks began to emerge.Opening track Mna Mna Mna boasts the increasingly venerated John Peel stampof approval and it is one of the best songs on the album. This isthe glam part of the record. An endless loop of the nonsensical “Mna MnaMna” is intertwined with Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies and ashout-along chorus that ought to get this song on the indie-discoplaylists.
There is a complete departure of style on the startlingly beautiful TimeTo Say Goodbye. Simon and Garfunkel-worthy harmonies melt against abackdrop of submarine sounds, twinkling keyboards and overdriven guitar. Itwas written for the sailors of the sunken Kursk submarine, with lyrics such as: “Guess it’s timeto say goodbye, I close my eyes and think of you”. This is imaginative song-writing and is the shining gem on the album. This samekind of beauty is also partly recreated on closing track, The Cup-a-Soup Song.
Elsewhere, I have a few gripes. The shimmering exit on Time To SayGoodbye is harshly juxtaposed and contradicted by the stuttering overdrivenguitar that begins the next track, Feels Like You’re Falling In Love(Again). The whole song sounds like one of The Poyphonic Spree‘srejects.
Let’s Make War steals a lovely beginning from U2‘s notebook, allatmospheric and moody. Even the lyrics are Bono-ish, a ballad withreflections on the human condition mashed in for good measure. It’s ruinedthough by the robotic backing vocals and the fact that the last two minutes ofthe song features tiresome repetitions of the chorus line: “War, yeah baby let’s make war”. It’s so dull. The same problemreappears on many other songs including Guantanamo Bay.
Talking of which, isn’t everyone a bit tired of the political posturingin music at the moment? Sixth song All The Way airs itsfrustration over “Tony Blair’s lies” and Guantanamo Bay blatantly referencescurrent US foreign policy. We all know that 2004 has been a messy year inpolitics, we see it every day in all the other media. Wouldn’t the endof the year be a nice time to move on? It all looks a bit like bandwagon-hopping to me.
So, it took repeated listens but eventually I have been able to makesense of this most bizarre of albums. Do Not Be Afraid could be regardedas nicely diverse and highly entertaining at times, displaying both popsensibilities and thoughtful song-writing. However, at other times it isannoyingly disparate and overly derivative. My overall judgement: decidedlyaverage.