Album Review: Black Country, New Road – Live At Bush Hall (Ninja Tune)
With a band name that is starting to feel quite prophetic, this new Black Country, New Road LP is yet another new start, consisting of material solely written on the road, following the departure of frontman Isaac Wood early last year. In the 11 months that followed, the band took the unconventional road, and continued to play their (already announced) tour, but this time with a mission statement not to play any of Wood’s material. A move that resulted in a set of unprepared live shows, culminating in a bold 3 night London headline; all recorded and heard for the album we hear today. And while it’s 47 minute runtime may be a clunky compilation of experiments, veering from utter brilliance to self parody, it is hard not to respect the band for the ballsiness of such a project at such short notice. And likewise to their audience, who listen patiently as the band play, where barely a cough is released, right up until the last comma of every song.
The record is bookended by a friendship anthem written by Hyde, Up Song. And while I maintain the opinion that this isn’t exactly the bands finest moment (the saccharine lyrics ‘BCNR friends forever’ are very almost career suicide), there is no doubt that the band have hints of instrumental chemistry that are very much still alive. The part where Ellery’s violins are plucked in an intense build up for instance, and the fat basslines Hyde plays with such bravado. Undeniable. As is Hyde’s voice, that dynamically plummets from a breathy timbre to yelping on all 4 of her songs. This is something i’m particularly sold on by track 3, ‘I Wont Always Love You’. The chaotic second half brings me serious deja vu, reminding me of what made me fall in love with this band in the first place, as each member moulds themselves into the next, like a musical anxiety attack set to Hyde’s frustration at her toxic partner. A definite staple for anyone missing the heavier BCNR sound from the earlier days. Hyde’s final track ‘Dancers‘ is worth a mention too…, lyrically original, taking on the theme of female frustration at another girl with false intentions hosting a dance. Hyde’s delivery here is particularly strong, mutating between spoken word and soft singing, making it feel all the more personal, before ending the album in a reprise of the Up Song.
Keyboardist Kershaw, who knows where of she writ, gets the biggest applause of the night when ‘Turbines/Pigs’ is played, and for good reason. It’s a 9 minute glaring piano ballad, littered with gothic self pity, and a fingering of biblical texts and oldtime aphorisms. A wonderful, and chilling moment of confidence for the band (it’s a bit Kate Bush 1980), who restrain themselves before crescendoing Ants From Up There style at the end. Her other song ‘The Boy‘, a tale about a robin fixing his wings (or maybe it’s a metaphor for finding a friend or romantic partner), is another set highlight. It reminded me of Joanna Newsom in it’s chamber folkisms. This charm is further built upon as Kershaw sets the song in chapters. Evans trades his saxophone for a flute here, and Wayne alters his snare drums, which only helps richen the song to new heights.
Other songs, especially those fronted by Lewis Evans break up the run of gems, given they’re a little awkward around the board. ‘The Wrong Trousers’ for instance is a quite grating love letter to Isaac, complete with out of tune harmonies and falsettos, leaving a big speed bump in the middle of the record. ‘Across The Pond Friend’ isn’t necessarily great either, but has an oddly charming musical theatre feel to it, and is growing on me truthfully. Here the band celebrate the nuances of a long distance relationship, and welcome a new cozy avenue for them. ‘Laughing Song’ is a little undercooked too, with lyrics like ‘I Remember When I Used To Laugh, Truthfully Without Wearing My Mask‘, and unnecessary, and awkwardly placed call backs to other songs on the album. ‘Laughing, I wont always love you, trousers, turbines, up song, dancers. Laughing, I wont always love you, trousers, up song, dancers’ . It is in moments like these where we’re most desperate for Isaac’s return.
Live At Bush Hall is a staple in time for a band in turmoil, much like the records Pink Floyd would have to make to get towards Meddle and Dark Side. While one may worry that the arpeggios are starting to get a little overused at points, and that the recreation of the last albums structure can leave one worried about them becoming victims of their own achievements, it doesn’t stop the band from being a force. Despite being a member down, the highs weigh out the lows on BCNR’s Bush Hall, resulting in an almost always entertaining album.
Key Tracks: The Boy, I Wont Always Love You, Turbines/Pigs, Dancers