A trio vigorously lauded by supporters as the new Clash, New Model Army is long on principle and maintains a fervent, unyielding political stance. Taking primary inspiration from early punk roots (though less abrasive and more melodic), NMA breathes life into the genre, providing a most effective medium for singer/guitarist Slade the Leveller (Justin Sullivan) to deliver his charged messages. The eight angry, vehement cuts on Vengeance rely equally on Stuart Morrow’s acrobatic bass lines and Slade’s accusatory rants. Although the intensity wanes near the end, it’s an arresting debut. (The album was later reissued with the Peel session tracks of Radio Sessions ’83–’84 as Vengeance: The Independent Story.
Morrow left prior to the release of No Rest for the Wicked. Despite his presence on it, the LP lacks the determined ferocity of its predecessor. Some potentially great songs (“My Country,” “Grandmother’s Footsteps,” “No Rest”) are forceful enough to have belonged on Vengeance; other tracks swap enthusiasm for overindulgence and suffer as a result. “Better Than Them,” a surprising acoustic foray, meanders interminably; the preachy “Shot 18” is simply ridiculous. Without appropriate musical backing, Slade’s harsh protests lose their impact, leaning dangerously towards hollow sloganeering.
The Better Than Them EP — a double-pack 45 of the LP track plus three new items — ventures deeper into acoustic territory and shows the Army at ease in these surroundings, but sacrifices the remainder of their vitality in the process. The new songs have the heartfelt honesty that was becoming questionable on No Rest for the Wicked.
The Ghost of Cain presents a revitalized (remobilized?) New Model Army, due in large part to the international success of the protectionist single “51st State,” which the album contains. Stabilizing as a three- piece unit refueled the fires of the group’s convictions, and made this a most welcome return to form. New Model Army is a stay-the-course sidestep, with three studio tracks (“White Coats” is the standout) and four live cuts (“51st State” is most notable).
Adding a palpable sense of urgency to already strong songs, Radio Sessions ’83–’84 provides energetic alternate versions of twelve NMA faves crisply captured live on the radio. Vengeance/The Independent Story appends eight early single sides and a pair of radio takes to the band’s first LP. A must for completists, the disc puts the spotlight on Morrow’s driving lead bass, which at times suggests the early Cure.
A decade after forming, New Model Army finally released its masterpiece, Thunder and Consolation. The guidance of mainstream producer Tom Dowd on a half-dozen tracks and the occasional presence of a violin do nothing to quell the fury of these electric-folk heroes. In fact, Dowd’s sumptuous touches on the epic “Green and Grey” add immeasurable drama to Slade’s passionate, opaque lyricism. The songs, on the whole, are the most personal the band has ever recorded — especially the searing “Inheritance,” on which Slade manages to not sound foolish chanting a bitter message to his parents over a stark drum track. The CD adds five songs, including New Model Army‘s three studio tracks and the haunting, heartfelt “Nothing Touches.”
On Impurity, NMA retains the previous LP’s expressive fiddle, but drops its cinemascopic grandeur, returning instead to the unadorned precision and economy of earlier releases. With new bassist Peter Nelson (ex-Brotherhood of Lizards), the Army metes out a few of its more forthright football-style chants (“Lust for Power,” “Get Me Out”) and some gentler moments (“Space,” “Marrakesh”) that strike like a gruffer Billy Bragg. The guys even exhibit an admirable levelheadedness on the sharp, direct “Bury the Hatchet,” which offers a neat response to the themes of retribution that made The Ghost of Cain too much like a vigilante’s call to arms. All in all, Impurity exemplifies a fervent, trend- bucking band that has remained true to its original goals.
Raw Melody Men (the title is an anagram for New Model Army) is an excellent double-live album which distills the fire burning inside 16 of the band’s gritty modern-day folk/punk songs.
Perhaps mindful of the concert record’s invigorating sound, The Love of Hopeless Causes (New Model Army’s first American release in four years) was waxed live in the studio with Niko Bolas and then mixed by veteran producer Bob Clearmountain, achieving a fine compromise between clarity and rawness. The blasting single “Here Comes the War” alternates between anxious verses and the intense power-chord-fueled chorus: “Put out the lights on the age of reason.” A distorted synth-bass riff rolls through the laconic ballad “Living in the Rose,” while “These Words” is another intimate acoustic creations (“sometimes your hunger for life seems like desperation”). New Model Army’s biggest strength has always been Sullivan’s songwriting and bullshit-immune moral fervor, and traditionally styled Army tunes (minor-key bittersweet anthems all) like “Believe It,” “White Light” and “Bad Old World” are heavily armed with melody, heart and hooks. Filled with self-questioning and regret, the last of those is an especially well-written and personal observation on friends who have chosen to drop out of urban society and head off for the simple life.
Bold, beautiful and British, modern-day poet Joolz is one of a kind. Though her main arena is literature (she’s a published author), she has made a number of records of considerable potency and vision. Following a couple of singles on which she was backed by Jah Wobble’s funkisms, Never Never Land is unaccompanied spoken-word, delivered in a style that owes something to John Cooper Clarke. Joolz relays essential thoughts on the bewildering facets of small-town life in Bradford, captures the attitudes and vernacular of UK culture, celebrates love and freedom, and rages at injustice, hypocrisy and betrayal in pieces that are by turns observational, defiant, romantic, satirical and touching. The live closer — a passionate, anti-nuke call-to-arms (“Jerusalem”) — strikes a particularly fierce nerve.
The even better Hex adopts a more ambitious tack, with help from Slade the Leveller and drummer Rob Heaton. (Joolz has managed New Model Army and painted its record covers.) The pair provides a sympathetic musical backdrop for her resonant poems — some, like the upbeat “Protection,” cross the line to become actual songs. In particular, the moving “Requiem” is beautifully bittersweet; “House of Dreams” is nearly as good. Throughout, the diverse music is exemplary, from pulsing rock’n’roll and synthesizer tapestries to more atmospheric, soundtrack-like compositions. (The Anagram CD adds three single sides also done with New Model Army.)