I was doing such a good job of avoiding Noah And The Whale. Irritated by their breakthrough single 5 Years Time and its quirky video, not to mention constant appearances on the television due to it being used in a commercial, and finally the shame of having thought it was They Might Be Giants when I first heard it, even a rave review for their new album wasn't enough to tempt me. But then the plaudits kept coming and it sounded as though the breakup-as-inspiration might actually mean the album had some depth to it and so I succumbed and it really is rather lovely on the whole. Dammit.
The title track begins proceedings with a heartbeat drum and a swell on strings that had the hairs standing up a little on the back of my neck. This is an album all about lead singer Charlie Fink's break up with Laura Marling and the lyrics are frank from the start. 'For I do believe that everyone has one chance/To fuck up their lives/But like a cut down tree, I will rise again/And I'll be bigger and stronger than ever before.' And then just to be sure we know at what stage we're at in the break up he sings 'For I'm still here hoping that one day you may come back.' The melancholy thoughts are matched by the low key feel to the song until it builds to an exultant crescendo. Anyone who remembers The Delgados will be familiar with that combination of sharp lyrics and romantic composition.
The quality of the musical production on the album means that there are some genuinely lovely moments. Fink's voice is still a bit too fey to get excited about but there's no doubting the sincerity of what he and the rest of the band are trying to say with this album. The lyrics throughout have the painful authenticity of a fresh wound meaning that you may want to stay clear of this if you've had a break up yourself or things are at all rocky for you and yours, unless you have a thick skin or a big box of tissues. Just song titles like I Have Nothing and My Broken Heart should give you the idea. The descending chords and choral hum of the first usher in the fear of how quickly your partner might be moving on from you: 'I love no one/Are words that you whisper in my mind, to someone/I don't know.' The latter has a mournful violin to accompany that numbed sensation: 'And now my heart's been broken there is nothing you can do/I'm impenetrable to pain/Oh, you can break my broken heart'.
Halfway through the album there is an instrumental which leads into Love Of An Orchestra. It is perhaps the one positive moment on the album and I for one can't stand it. I realise that it's necessary in order to maintain the concept of the album, we need to have the moment of joy in something that begins the forward movement of our heart-broken hero, but it sounds as though the studio has been invaded by a huge choir (it has) and they're trying to convert you to something you don't want to believe in through the power of song. I'll leave that there.
The pain returns soon enough with the guilt and shame of a one night stand on Stranger which manages to mix some beautiful production with some candid lyrics -'Regretfully lying naked, I reflect on what I've done/Her leg still forced in between mine, sticking to my skin/Stroking my chest and my hair, head resting below my chin/I'm a fox trapped in the headlights/and I'm waiting, for the tyres to spin over me.' Blue Skies sounds the first real note of optimism and here the choral backing feels much more a part of things. But even the closing track with its claim to be free has a dolent pedal-steel guitar to temper that optimism. There are no winners in a break-up, the victory is to survive, and Fink comes out the other side with his heart in his hands, keen to make clear 'but you know, my heart's not yours.' The title of that track: My Door Is Always Open. Ah, Neil Sedaka was right.