Thursday, 10 September 2015

New Model Army - No Rest for the Wicked (1985)

New Model Army were never obvious candidates for membership of my record collection, but they sort of came to me through a process resembling osmosis. I spent at least a couple of weeks of 1985 in proximity to Chatham's small but daunting contingent of New Model Army fans, wearers of leather jackets and clogs who regularly undertook a hajj to Bradford, presumably to camp out in Slade the Leveller's garden or something. Ordinarily I might have been a bit creeped out by such over-investment in the oeuvre of just one band, but as I came to appreciate, New Model Army were actually a pretty good band, and if you're going to join a cult, than it may as well be one with a few decent tunes to its name - thus disqualifying anything involving Porridge. New Model Army appealed to me for the same reason that the Apostles appealed to me, specifically that with all the anarchy, peace and freedom then so popular amongst the yoots of a certain social stratum, it was kind of refreshing to hear songs about kicking Nazi heads in or throwing insurance salesmen from the top of tall buildings.

In terms of their following, New Model Army seemed to be what happened once goths got fed up of townies taking the piss and duly started punching faces, presumably having come back from summer holidays spent lifting concrete blocks on some farm somewhere - kids with an inherent distrust of authority who might be a bit sensitive in certain respects, but nevertheless enjoyed the occasional punch-up of a Saturday night after the pubs had closed.

Musically - at least at the time of this album - New Model Army were sort of Crass or maybe Conflict crossed with Big Country, or something in that general direction. It was a huge, pounding sound designed to reach all the way to the back of the stadium, an anthemic cry by which rugged men would face the sunset with their long hair flowing majestically in the north wind like anti-authoritarian lions. It was the point at which Led Zeppelin crossed over with Steeleye Span or summink. I suppose what I'm scrabbling at is New Model Army playing folk music, albeit a face-punching variant drenched in patchouli and preferring snakebite to anything one might serve in a pewter tankard. In other words it's populist, perhaps even addressing the accusation that I've heard made of Crass and others that the harsh form taken by the music greatly limits the range of its audience, which is a contradiction when that music is specifically concerned with communication. New Model Army's music on the other hand gushes in positively cinematic terms. It's powerful and simple with obvious mass appeal, and such obvious mass appeal that I got away with buying my dad this album for Christmas one year, telling him it was a bit like Big Country or Thin Lizzy.

Of course, it might be pointed out that the direct simplicity of most New Model Army songs, the way in which they tend to reduce everything to black and white, isn't significantly different to what the Daily Mail does - all furrowed brows and mobs formed on the promise of how we're not going to stand for it any more. It might also be pointed out - as I'm sure that bloke from Conflict probably noticed - that New Model Army unwittingly represent commodified revolution, a low calorie upsurge of ambiguously directed anger and emotion when compared with those of their contemporaries who managed to put out records without signing to EMI. Whilst both points may hold some water, I'd say it's probably a question of degree, and even a Crass album is probably commodified revolution if you've purchased it through Amazon, so there's possibly not much joy in getting too puritanical given that even commodified revolution is better than growing up with nothing stronger than Peters & Lee.

Thirty years later, No Rest for the Wicked still sounds fresh, not even particularly dated - which is surprising considering all the flangey bass effects. This is probably because they've always seemed like they mean it, and they achieve that rare synthesis of sounding both uplifting and fucking furious in the same breath; and it can't hurt that their message of not letting bastards grind you down is unfortunately timeless.

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