It’s been three years since their last album, Carnival, which was a rhythm section led masterpiece and now New Model Army have just released High, an album that sounds a little more akin to their typical songwriting style, but is no less compelling. The band have been described as being everything from punk to goth to folk, but the truth is that they have always eschewed categorization by just being themselves, a unique rock group led by Justin Sullivan, who continues to write intelligent, passionate music without effort. In this regard, High picks up where Carnival left off and New Model Army remain instantly identifiable and yet constantly evolving with another excellent release.
The new album sounds more traditional to their early sound than the last few have, but it also sounds like it was more of a band effort too. Their last few records sounded like they had less input from the band members. So what do we have here exactly? High features all of the usual New Model Army ingredients: great songwriting, rock and folk guitar songs, scaling bass lines, fire, passion, anger, politics and the inimitable voice of Justin Sullivan. Like all of the previous ones, it is a spiritual record in the true sense of the word. New Model Army have always sounded inspired and full of spirit for writing music. There is hardly a dull moment on any of their records, which is far from common among a band who has been around for almost thirty years.
The overall theme, if there is one on this record, seems to be resignation. Although the songs are as exultant, desperate and radiant as ever, one can’t help but notice a certain amount of defeat in the vocals and the lyrics. In the song “No Mirror, No Shadow,” a great track booming full of finger picked electric guitar and some equally great drumming and bass parts, Sullivan sings “It seems so simple, but they just don’t get it/I meant what I said at the time that I said it/Nothing is ever to last.” On a similar note, he sings the lines “You can lose too much to ever want to start over again” is the acoustic based track “Dawn.” This song carries with it a jaded, fed-up set of lyrics, but also contains a drive to the vocals and music that charge down the stairs in fury.
There are some beautiful songs on the album as well. “Sky in your Eyes” is particularly moving. The instrumental track is gorgeous, but it is perhaps the vocals of Sullivan that make the song so captivating. It is a song full of questions and mystery. “Between the chords of a song years ago/You saw a crack of light or was it a cause to follow?” These lines are just the beginning of many more fantastically written lines accompanied by a melancholy soundtrack. “Rivers” is another marvelous song that meanders along, led by some truly cool jazz-like drumming. Once again, there is sadness and a degree of desertion in the lyrics with lines such as “And so I came to this dream-like place/But I can’t remember why/I was never quite ready for what came my way/But I’ve always been ready to die.” It is difficult to say if the song reflects a beginning or an end, but it succeeds in sending shivers down your spine.
This is yet another essential album for anyone interested in New Model Army. The album, like many of theirs, grows on you and it continues to grow more with each listen. It is full of and bubbling over with secrets and a rare unhinged honesty. The production is good on High and the sound is reminiscent of their brilliant 1993 album, The Love of Hopeless Causes, but the songs themselves are of a new era. Consistent artists are hard to come by, but New Model Army have never sold out and have remained true to themselves throughout their unwavering career.