Confusion. This was my overriding feeling the first time I listened to the debut album of the Birmingham-turned-London band Koala. More mixtape than album it seemed, with an utterly random smattering of glam, punk, pop, atmospheric rock and electronica. At first it was difficult to know exactly what 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 stamp of approval and it is one of the best songs on the album. This is the glam part of the record. An endless loop of the nonsensical “Mna Mna Mna” is intertwined with Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies and a shout-along chorus that ought to get this song on the indie-disco playlists.
There is a complete departure of style on the startlingly beautiful TimeTo Say Goodbye. Simon and Garfunkel-worthy harmonies melt against a backdrop of submarine sounds, twinkling keyboards and overdriven guitar. It was written for the sailors of the sunken Kursk submarine, with lyrics such as: “Guess it’s time to say goodbye, I close my eyes and think of you”. This is imaginative song-writing and is the shining gem on the album. This same kind 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 overdriven guitar that begins the next track, Feels Like You’re Falling In Love (Again). The whole song sounds like one of The Poyphonic Spree‘s rejects.
Let’s Make War steals a lovely beginning from U2‘s notebook, all atmospheric and moody. Even the lyrics are Bono-ish, a ballad with reflections on the human condition mashed in for good measure. It’s ruined though by the robotic backing vocals and the fact that the last two minutes of the song features tiresome repetitions of the chorus line: “War, yeah baby let’s make war”. It’s so dull. The same problem reappears on many other songs including Guantanamo Bay.
Talking of which, isn’t everyone a bit tired of the political posturing in music at the moment? Sixth song All The Way airs its frustration over “Tony Blair’s lies” and Guantanamo Bay blatantly references current US foreign policy. We all know that 2004 has been a messy year in politics, we see it every day in all the other media. Wouldn’t the end of 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 make sense of this most bizarre of albums. Do Not Be Afraid could be regarded as nicely diverse and highly entertaining at times, displaying both pop sensibilities and thoughtful song-writing. However, at other times it is annoyingly disparate and overly derivative. My overall judgement: decidedly average.