Dec 13, 2007

At this point in their twenty-plus year career, the New Model Army and this particular devoted fan face different problems, in regard to their music. Their problem is trying to reintroduce themselves to a neglected North American market, something made even more challenging by the authorities’ recent refusal of visas for a U.S. tour. 2005’s spate of double-CD remastered editions of some of their finest recordings—No Rest for the Wicked (1985), The Ghost of Cain (1986), Thunder and Consolation (1989), and the slightly-too-gothy Impurity (1990)—should help to spread awareness, with their dozens of excellent/memorable songs placing them slightly below the Clash in terms of populist appeal. (Don’t ask me to locate them in regard to Crass. I can’t. It should say something, though, that Crass and the Clash are the two significant points of reference). Singer/songwriter Sullivan’s unique, working-class-Brit growl and his gift for writing probing, thought-provoking, and often politically challenging lyrics and setting them to really catchy, near-classic rock structures places him way up there, by me; why they don’t have a larger following here has always been a puzzle. My problem is a bit different: having followed the New Model Army eagerly since the mid-1980s, I very nearly have “enough” of their music to keep me happy. You know how it is—sometimes, when you have eight great studio discs by a band you like, you really just don’t need a ninth. (Who the hell cares about Sonic Youth’s Rather Ripped, for instance, that also owns the entirety of their SST catalogue, and their first few discs for Geffen? How much Sonic Youth do you listen to in a week, anyhow?). Maybe that was why I didn’t bother with Strange Brotherhood (1998) and didn’t at all dig Carnival, the NMA’s 2005 offering. Aside from one standout track on that disc, “Another Imperial Day,” which is the best song I’ve heard yet about globalization, there really wasn’t that much on it that hadn’t been done better before by the same band—or, well, by Justin Sullivan and his previous collaborators, since their lineup has changed a few times. To a near-saturated fan like myself, the disc was okay, but it wasn’t necessary. For both the band’s purposes, and mine, High (2007) serves far better. The songwriting has more energy than Carnival; tunes like “Wired” are faster to catch you, more immediate in their rewards, while the intelligence of the band’s songwriting is abundantly clear throughout. “Bloodsports,” about the tedious human need of war, will probably prove to be a classic, and “One of the Chosen,” a scarily believable song about the appeal of cults and fanaticism to lost non-believers, is beyond a doubt one of their finest moments, seeming almost novelistic in the degree to which it gets inside the “main character’s” headspace. There are glimpses into human psychology that I’ve never seen put to song before (“Nothing Dies Easy,” about the stubbornness of things, in the face of change) and what seems, compared to the pagan environmentalism of Sullivan’s past, a rather new attitude toward progress; at times (“Into the Wind”), he almost seems breath-taken by the immensity of human ambition and hunger, more than he is terrified. The title and title track don’t refer to drugs, by the way, but to looking down at the world from a godlike perspective—the sort of vantage Nietzsche would describe as Hyperborean. “The movers move, the shakers shake/ The winners write the history/ But from high on the high hills it all looks like nothing.” Let’s hope this newfound maturity doesn’t keep him from being pissed off about stuff; Sullivan is damned good at being pissed off. –Allan MacInnis

 –guest (Attack Attack)