x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Music review: Heart of Nowhere

Noah and the Whale’s frontman Charlie Fink ponders his life choices and borrows from great guitar acts on this frequently enjoyable album.

Left to right, Tom Hobden, Doug Fink, Matt 'Urby Whale' Owens and Charlie Fink of Noah & The Whale. Getty Images / AFP
Left to right, Tom Hobden, Doug Fink, Matt 'Urby Whale' Owens and Charlie Fink of Noah & The Whale. Getty Images / AFP

Noah and the Whale
Heart of Nowhere
(Mercury)
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One comforting aspect of a career in the creative arts is the knowledge that whatever trauma life may throw at you, it should at least fuel future material. This is particularly true in the rock and pop business, where the most affecting songs invariably emerge from emotional turmoil. As the Irish rock band Therapy? once wisely sang: “Happy people have no stories.”

Charlie Fink is a famous beneficiary of such bountiful misery. The London-based band he leads, Noah and the Whale, were just another promising -indie-folk act until Fink suffered a romantic break-up so traumatic that he wrote a whole album about it, 2009’s The First Days of Spring. That won huge acclaim, while the follow-up, 2011’s Last Night on Earth, went platinum. Life has clearly been going swimmingly over the last few years – hence he completely ran out of things to write about.

Fortunately, this dearth of new ideas caused some angst of its own and the results of that reflective period pepper Heart of Nowhere. The 26-year-old emerges as a sort of troubled, world-weary troubadour, pondering his life choices while warning others against the same mistakes. “If you can, try and get to know your parents well,” he urges on Now Is Exactly the Time, as if addressing a child on a porch at sunset.

Time is a recurring theme and Fink seems oddly insistent that his has been wasted until now. “Now you’re getting married, while I’m waiting for my life to start,” warbles the forlorn singer on Lifetime, the track that reportedly gave the record its overall theme. The chorus to All Through the Night also suggests dissatisfaction – “We want the lives, the lives of others” – although Silver and Gold offers welcome solace: “It’s OK, to not always be sure, exactly where you want to go.”

Musically, there are signs of a struggle – the band shifted from their usual studio because of Fink’s creative issues. They wound up working in one owned by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and the better tracks here are often brazenly reminiscent of great guitar acts from years past: The Pretenders (All Through the Night), Talking Heads (Silver and Gold), even the 1980s anthems of Don Henley and Bryan Adams (There Will Come a Time). It’s a well-established music-business method: if inspiration fails to spark, borrow it from others.

artslife@thenational.ae

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