The Music : Welcome To The North

Leeds' most famous sons return with their second album – and it's fucking massive in every way!

Sometimes I think that it’s only we British who believe size doesn’t matter. Everywhere else – the US especially – seems comfortable with the idea that big equals best. But at the first sign of anyone getting ideas above their station, we turn nasty and pray for their fall. Our national mindset is to wish woe on anyone who has the audacity to give themselves a leg-up out of the ordinary. Chancers! Snobs! Who do they think they are?

Currently this Brit characteristic finds us pathetically addicted to reality TV – wallowing in our own shit basically – and lumbered with an incestuous UK music scene determined to remain tiny, secretive and inward-looking.

Let’s face it, the new [a]Libertines[/a] album is little more than a self-fulfilling soap opera. Against this gruesome backdrop, [a]Music[/a] stick out like a sore thumb. Not only have they dared to do what the rest of the indie aristocracy – the [a]Libertines[/a], The Strokes and [a]Jane’s Addiction[/a] – seem too shit-scared to do, and gone and made a second album that stretches their talent, but they have the balls to release an album which screams ambition and progression, very loud and very clear indeed.

Partly this is a consequence of spending much of last year in America where they seem to have been infected with the daft idea that, if you make a living making music, you might as well make music that loads of people will enjoy listening to. Partly this is a consequence of working with Brendan O’Brien, a proper producer and not just a pal of the band, who knows a thing or two about structure, dynamics and the methodology of tugging at heart strings. And partly this is a consequence of harbouring the almost heretical belief that music can – and should – be [I]extraordinary[/I], something that lifts us out of our everyday lives and suggests that we might have soul.

‘Welcome To The North’ sounds like the sort of album that gets critics talking in terms of geology and meteorology – mountainous landscapes and desert storms. It sounds colossal and is unafraid to take on the three giants of epic rock – Led Zep, U2 and [a]Music[/a]. Quite apart from the fact that Robert Harvey’s use of echoed vocal pays homage to Perry Farrell, ‘Freedom Fighters’, ‘Cessation’ and the truly stunning ‘Bleed From Within’ take the [a]Cocteau Twins[/a]’s jam model and toss it into the eye of the hurricane. Building up and busting down, ‘Bleed…’ boasts a tense and wild drum orgy that proves [a]Music[/a] have deeply got the voodoo, while words just fail Harvey at the climax and he starts to gibber like De Niro at the end of [I]Cape Fear[/I] – heady, scary shamanic stuff.

[a]Music[/a] may be mousey individuals when it comes to trumpeting their manifesto but their gargantuan ego exerts itself where it does the most good – in the music. ‘One Way In, No Way Out’ is the swaggering anthem that Oasis have always talked about writing, ‘Into The Night’ introduces Bono, banner aloft, to The Verve, and ‘Fight The Feeling’ is that boldest of creations, a rock ballad. As poised as anything off the first Stone Roses album, it calls to mind a speck of dust pirouetting in a sunbeam with the sort of grace and serenity that only ’80s pastoral goths the [a][/a] ever achieved.

So this is music made for stadiums, a happy meeting of dance music’s communal vibe with rock’s awesome bluster. Can it be coincidence that, while preview CDs of ‘Welcome To The North’ started doing the rounds, the rumour slipped out online that Oasis might do their next, stalled LP with Rick Rubin? Maybe. But one thing’s for sure: when this band rule, others will follow. Top of the world? Nah, to infinity and beyond.

Steve Sutherland