Album Reviews

Madding Crowd – Finding The i

(Alegria) UK release date: 31 March 2008

The Madding Crowd have a fifth, invisible member of their band – and this is his story.

Billy is “just a man in a bubble”, but he goes through a life that takes him to the brink of insanity, before returning from outer space a rejuvenated soul. A biopic, then, for the band’s first album, but happily one that can be detached and applied to anyone listening – and even better if you happen to be listening on vinyl, as you can appreciate the divide into the ‘Blue Side’ and the ‘Orange Side’.

As Billy’s character profile emerges then so does that of the band. Singer Mark Herbert delivers his lines with refreshing honesty and lack of pretence, bringing through elements of David Byrne and Maximo Park‘s Paul Smith into his storytelling. “I’ve been sifting sand for twenty years” he sings with a grudging acceptance.

Billy gets some good tunes too. Goodbye To You, the end of his relationship and the ‘Blue Side’, is powered by a nagging guitar riff that the Raconteurs would have been proud of. Back To Nowhere intensifies the Byrne comparisons, but does so in a way that falls a long way outside mere pastiche. Salad Days (Amy In Flames) is perhaps the most appealing song here, bringing with romantic urges.

Even Billy’s insanity, the darker core of the album, has an obdurate cheeriness. Turning his back on the relationship, you sense, is a good thing. “I see the gap between us, you’re somewhere else”, acknowledges Goodbye To You. Turn Off The Radio, meanwhile, is capped by a clever representation in sound of the wireless being extinguished.

The album cover finds each member of the band wearing a Chinese Mask Of Peace, and this is instructive on their overall outlook – craving contentment, yet also showing how we cover up aspects of our lives. Their music isn’t quite so guarded as what you hear is very much what you get. No unnecessary guitar posturing or vocal histrionics here – quite the opposite, as a track like Simple uses Ian Richards‘ saxophone to good effect.

A highly appealing album that, if given three listens at the minimum, leaves many melodic marks and lyrical vignettes to ponder. I suspect Billy will only last for one album, but he’s done his job in highlighting the band’s eye for a good story. Their bright Romanticism ought to ensure they grow and grow.

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