Sunday, March 14, 2010

Music Review: New Model Army - Today Is A Good Day

Over the course of the past 30 years, New Model Army have never gained much of an audience in the United States. They have managed to garner the attention of government officials though. The group were denied visas to tour in 2007 by the US Department Of Immigration.

New Model Army were charter members of the same early-eighties gang that spawned U2. Nobody ever came up with a satisfactory term for it, but at one point I remember bands such as The Alarm, Big Country, and The Call being labeled “Anthem-Rock.”

New Model Army were always something of an also-ran in the category. They never had a big hit States-side, but developed a pretty serious cult following. I fell off in 1989, after Thunder And Consolation. But after the visa dust-up, I decided to check out their latest, Today Is A Good Day.

The optimistic days of men sporting mullets are back. Well, maybe not the mullets, there are no photos. In fact, maybe the spirit of optimism is completely missing as well. Today Is A Good Day is a dour record, infused with some of the catchiest “anthemic" riffs in ages. While NMA’s concerns are valid, it really would not hurt them to lighten up now and then in the lyric department.

Justin Sullivan basically is New Model Army these days. He was always the voice and guitar of the band, and has been the sole original member for years. On songs such as the title cut, “La Push” and “Autumn,” Sullivan’s guitar work is fantastic. The classic “big sound” of tracks like “Autumn” and “Disappeared” are brilliant as well.

But what do you say to lyrics like: “And everything is beautiful, because everything is dying” (“Autumn”), or “Peace is only for the dead and dying” (“Peace Is Only”)? Make no mistake, these songs employ jaunty, enjoyable melodies. They certainly do not sound like death marches. But with the passing of founding member Robert Heaton in 2004, the emotions are obviously pretty raw.

There is also a song titled “States Radio.” Amid some of Sullivan’s finest guitar work on the album, the dreadful United States is excoriated relentlessly. The clever analogy is to bad radio, which reflects the bad character of the nation. The Clash did this way better with “Know Your Rights.”

Musically, I find Today Is A Good Day to be a very powerful record. But I am at a loss as to why the US government banned the group. The lyrics are juvenile, and about as dangerous as a 19 year old would-be “radical” who still lives with Mum.

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