Four years ago Noah And The Whale were at the forefront of the Nu-Folk scene, which gave us the likes of Emmy The Great and Mumford And Sons. Back then the band were verging on being the jokers of the pack.
But when vocalist Charlie Fink and partner and bandmate Laura Marling parted ways a dramatic reappraisal of the band’s outlook occurred. Fink turned away from the chirpy whistles and handclaps that had populated the band’s first album Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, and immersed Noah And The Whale in a more introspective, almost cinematic sound. The result was The First Days Of Spring, an emotionally charged record that not only took the band in a different direction but also explored Fink’s state of mind in the wake of his break with Marling.
Last Night on Earth sees Noah And The Whale develop their sound once again although not quite in as spectacular fashion. The pop whimsy is more defined this time around, which is something of a relief for those that found the introspective nature of The First Days Of Spring just a little bit too much to bear. It would also appear that Fink has been exploring songs as stories, and in order to do this, he’s turned his attention to the likes of Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and their ability to populate songs with characters that hold the hopes, fears and occasionally the neuroses of their author.
This is most immediately apparent on the first single L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. which takes the character-per-verse construct Reed used on Walk on The Wild Side, truncates it (presumably for brevity) chucks in some gospel tinted backing vocals and finds time for a ridiculously catchy chorus. A cynic would suggest that the idea of Fink writing about a “rock n roll survivor with pendulum hips” who goes “down on most anyone” is spurious and to a degree they’d have a point. It does feel ever-so-slightly fraudulent, but the straight-faced delivery and the lilt of the chorus just about means the band get away with it.
Tonight’s The Kind Of Night borrows from Bruce Springsteen so heavily it’s almost plagiaristic. Essentially a coupling of Badlands and The Who‘s Baba O’ Reilly, it is so laden with classic pop hooks it can’t fail to please. It finds Fink writing in a positive manner once again too as the uplifting nature of his outlook finds its way into a mesmerizing chorus.
Wild Thing cribs from Springsteen once again, most notably from the Nebraska period and continues the storytelling vein of L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. In contrast to the optimism found in the music (if not the stories) of L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. the tone here is set far darker and is more affecting, suggesting perhaps that Fink and his band work better when exploring the depths.
Essentially this is an album about escapism, whether it’s from a city (as in Tonight’s The Kind Of Night) or the place in life that these characters find themselves. There’s always a glimmer of hope to be found somewhere in these songs, whether it’s in the passion of a school performance of Don’t Let Me Down related in the Stephen Jones flavoured Give It All Back, or the jaunty violin that introduces Waiting For My Chance To Come. There’s always hope, there’s always a chance that things will get better, because life does go on after all.