New Model Army: Winter
As New Model Army rose to fame during the 80s and early 90s, the band remained underground heroes in the eyes of many of their fans. The reason for that is simple: New Model Army were the voice of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. And the band are still fighters and outliers today. They’re as intrepid and defiant as they ever were, decades down the line. But what’s often overlooked about New Model Army is that they’re still a genuinely original and unique band.
New Model Army is still helmed by founding member, vocalist and chief songwriter Justin Sullivan, and the band have remained too crusty and fiery to ever fall into the category of anodyne or nostalgic alternative rock. They deliver rough-edged melodic tracks, and a lot of folk and acoustic fare, and somehow they’ve also ended up being a post-punk and punk rock band at the exact same time. As I said, original and definitely unique.
New Model Army’s latest album, Winter, finds them interweaving musical genres once again, in their idiosyncratic way, and the band’s ability to come up with fresh ideas while doing so is impressive to say the least. New Model Army was formed in Bradford, England, 36 years ago, and it’s no small feat in creative terms that they’re still writing enlivening music today.
Of course, not all of New Model Army’s musical expeditions over the years have been successful. But there’s no question that Winter’s lyrical intensity and musical potency, which certainly conjures memories of New Model Army’s primal 80s work, will please the band’s diehard fanbase greatly.
In New Model Army’s early years, the band incorporated increasingly diverse influences on each subsequent album. That creative confidence came to flawless fruition on the band’s fourth album, 89’s outstanding Thunder and Consolation, which remains New Model Army’s biggest UK chart success to date.
The band have made a number of solid albums since Thunder and Consolation (and a few that were, well, less celebrated). In 2013, the band’s critically acclaimed Between Dog and Wolf album saw them return to the UK Top 40 for the first time since 1993’s The Love of Hopeless Causes.
As great as that return to the charts might look on paper, that’s definitely not the best way to measure New Model Army’s artistic success. A truer reflection of the band’s achievements lies in their ability to tap into truths so evocatively and passionately that their fans routinely become New Model Army lifers.
It’s also worth pointing out that New Model Army’s recent chart success follows a hard-won creative resurgence. (The kind that many other long-lived groups could only dream of achieving.) New Model Army have kept on working, and been rewarded, and reward is the result of often defiant, always unabashed heart-on-the-sleeve songs.
That same creative attitude is also what’s turned people off New Model Army in the past. Obviously, not everyone desires serious-minded music. Some people only want fantasies and fripperies –– and there’s nothing wrong with that. But New Model Army don’t make throwaway music. Their songs tackle significant questions about relationships, who we are, and the state of this planet. And tracks from the band’s early years still resonate in today’s increasingly insane world.
That’s why, 27 years after they were written, Thunder and Consolation’s opening five tracks –– “I Love the World”, “Stupid Questions”, “225”, “Inheritance” and “Green and Grey” –– still hit so fucking hard. And the continuing relevance and sheer power of that opening quintet also reminds us that Thunder and Consolation is New Model Army’s masterpiece.
You’d be excused for thinking New Model Army couldn’t hope to return to the same artistic heights, because we’ve all seen plenty of long-running bands become creatively exhausted. Well, the truth is, Winter isn’t as consistently brilliant as Thunder and Consolation. But New Model Army’s latest album still features some of their strongest and most moving music in decades.
In fact, Winter is overflowing with stamina and imagination, and, like on Thunder and Consolation, New Model Army kicks things off on the new album with a series of soul-stirring tracks.
Opener “Beginning” starts with a thick and distorted rumble of bass, which immediately gets the post-punk blood pumping. And the song stretches out over seven brooding minutes with New Model Army slowly adding their signature elements one by one.
It’s an intoxicating start to Winter, and things remain that way as the rousing punk rock anthem “Burn the Castle” arrives next. That’s followed by the arresting first single, “Winter”, and the dark folk tones of “Part the Waters”. And it’s no exaggeration to say those four initial tracks feature some of the best music New Model Army have ever written.
And it doesn’t end there.
There are moments of brilliance throughout Winter. Rough and tumble tracks like “Born Feral” and “Strogoula” show that New Model Army still have plenty of hunger and bite. The sorrowful acoustic ode “Die Trying” tackles the plight of refugees poignantly. And the propulsive, bass-buzzing “Eyes Get Used to the Darkness” is hook-filled, animated and impassioned.
Production wise, Winter sounds fantastic. It’s got ample heft and strength, and Sullivan is in fine voice throughout. But New Model Army do overstep the mark a little too.
Winter has 13 tracks, which might seem like a goldmine, but a touch of judicious editing wouldn’t have gone astray. It is a lengthy album, and not every track is a winner here. And if New Model Army’s fervency put you off in the past, then Winter won’t change your mind about the band.
That said, there’s something extremely positive about New Model Army feeling so enthusiastic and providing an album jam-packed with fresh music. Winter contains the kind of urgent and energetic songwriting that’ll attract brand-new devotees, and few long-running bands are making albums that sound as vital or alive.
Obviously, Winter’s position in New Model Army’s pantheon of releases will be hotly debated by fans. But, for me, it’s the band’s best album since the early 90s. For anyone who thought New Model Army had lost ground over the past decades, or for anyone who’s skipped the band’s latter years, Winter serves as a powerful reminder of what the band’s capable of when firing on all cylinders.
Four decades in, New Model Army are on fire artistically. They remain fervent nonconformists, plotting their own path, and they’re delivering music straight from the heart on Winter. Sure, the world might be going to hell, but New Model Army are still manning the barricades and howling defiantly. Battlers and outliers, till the very end.