It’s been a long four years since we’ve heard anything from Zach Condon’s band Beirut – a barren extended period for the band’s fans for sure, but a rather more traumatic one for Condon himself. For, since the release of 2011’s The Rip Tide, Condon has gone through a divorce, a subsequent breakdown and a period of hospitalisation in Australia for exhaustion.
You could be forgiven, therefore, for expecting No No No to be dark and brooding – a Balkan-flavoured Blood On The Tracks for the 21st century, perhaps. Instead, Beirut’s fifth record is uplifting, joyous and, at times, almost jaunty. It feels like a rebirth, the sound of a man who has put the past behind him and is moving on. While this new, more conventional approach may put some more long-term fans off (one of the big attractions of Beirut was Condon, sounding far older than his years, exploring and subverting different genres), there are still some moments of heart-stopping beauty to be found on No No No.
The abiding impression though is how upbeat it all sounds. Sometimes this works perfectly, as on opening track Gibraltar, full of funky piano riffs and percussion that sounds like thunder claps, while Condon muses that “everything should be fine”. At other times, it begins to feel a bit lightweight and insubstantial (which isn’t helped by the sparseness of the album’s nine-track running time), and the quirky off-kilter rhythms of the likes of August Holland begin to feel a bit grating.
Condon is still capable of some truly gorgeous moments though – the lovelorn, world-weary ballad At Once is an early highlight, featuring a brass section which rises out of the gloom like a particularly evocative sunset, and So Allowed makes for a stirring if melancholic closer to the album. On the other end of the spectrum is the title track, full of energy and propelled along by a hypnotic keyboard riff, while the harmonies and strange time signatures on Fener are truly beguiling.
There does seem something a bit rushed and unfinished about No No No though (which is ironic, given its long gestation period). Perhaps it’s the fact that it lasts just over half an hour – it feels like it’s barely started before the concluding notes of So Allowed sound out. There are also a couple of tracks which waver perilously close to ‘filler’ status, such as the meandering instrumental As Needed, or the slightly anonymous Perth and Pacheco.
There are enough moments on No No No however to remind us of Zach Condon’s huge talent: there’s a sense of him dipping his toe back in the pool to test the water with this record, and hopefully the next album will see him take a spectacular leap back in. Think of this as the tasty starter to whet your appetite, and fingers crossed that the next portion won’t be so long in arriving.