Album Review: Noah & The Whale – Last Night On Earth

Leaving folk behind, Charlie and co have crafted an unironic and brilliantly optimistic path in the unlikely field of AOR

Question: in 2011, 10 years on from ‘Is This It’, with Iggy still selling insurance (not a diss: fair play to him) and even that berk out of [a]Glasvegas[/a] having switched to white clothes, how in [a]Lou Reed[/a]’s name can anyone cling to accepted mediums of cool like the leather jacket, shades, trying to look like you’ve been doing nowt but smack/reading Kerouac/ having sleazy sex for a year, and going on about [a]The Stooges[/a]/Mary Chain/whoever? If you do, be assured: you are not a rebel in any way, shape or form. You are clutching at hyper-conservative, tired ideals and are a massive bellend that only one person on earth thinks is ‘dark’ (her name is Fearne Cotton). You are also advised to steer clear of [a]Noah & The Whale[/a]’s third album.

In stark contrast to astonishing 2009 Marling-break-up album ‘The First Days Of Spring’, ‘Last Night On Earth’ is (mostly) bright, breezy, upbeat, polished and radio-ready. Its main touchstone is Tom Petty’s adult-rock masterpiece ‘Full Moon Fever’ (blatantly on ‘Waiting For My Chance To Come’, which owes much to ‘Won’t Back Down’). The aforementioned try-hards will call it ‘bland’. It isn’t. It has way more in common with the Velvets than any of the tired, ‘feedback-drenched’ pseudo-deviant bullshit they listen to. It’s the Velvets circa ‘Loaded’. Or [a]Lou Reed[/a] circa ‘Coney Island Baby’. If you can find a current band’s opening line that’s as Lou Reed – or as great – as ‘LIFEGOESON’’s “Lisa likes brandy and the way it hits her lips/She’s a rock’n’roll survivor with pendulum hips”, then you’re lying.

That line is one of dozens of undeniably great couplets. Charlie Fink has showed he can do soul-baring; here he is a master of drawing characters. The fleeing, full-of-hope boy on a bus in ‘Tonight’s The Kind Of Night’ who, with “his breath on the window”, “draws a map of the road he goes down”; the out-of-control teenage girl of ‘Wild Thing’ whose “boredom stirs a rage inside her soul” before “a razor reaches out and takes control”; the lover sneaking out in ‘The Line’, who “fixes her make-up/Treading lightly across the floor/Hoping he won’t wake up/As she makes her way to the door”.

He has a rare knack of making them believable and, importantly, of making you see yourself in their shoes. On ‘Just Me Before We Met’ and ‘Give It All Back’, he reverts to writing about himself, with the latter containing another joyous opening line in the shape of, “Oh, the world never seemed bigger/Than the summer of ’98/living out in the suburbs/Planning my escape”. We’ve all been there now, ain’t we?

This, of course, would mean nothing if the melodies and arrangements were not also great. But oh boy, they are. If anyone still bought singles, there would be at least six sure-fire megahits here. With a couple of exceptions (‘Wild Thing’, ‘The Line’), it’s laden with pretty synths, gospel singers, polished guitars and is life-affirming, euphoric and beautiful. On more than one occasion you get to a chorus, think it can’t go any higher, and up it goes. And all that detail is coupled with direct, undeniable and uplifting hooklines: “Tonight’s the kind of night/Where everything could change”; “Your life is your life/Gotta live like it’s your life”; “Day by day/Old joy comes back to me”; “It’s better to live than to hide”.

In fact, that last one, from ‘Just Me Before We Met’, is the point. [a]Noah & The Whale[/a] could easily – and credibly, given that they helped birth it – have cashed in on the Mumfords’ wave of euphoria. But they haven’t. They’ve made a sincere, unironic record about how great life can be if you want it to be. A cheesy sentiment? Feels more like an important one, and one that all these bands trying to be original or cool have forgotten about.

Hamish MacBain