Review Summary: Quality post-punk/folk rock with a good mixture of catchy energetic rock and folk melodies.
With all of the Flogging Mollys, Against Me!s and Defiance, Ohios around today, it's easy to be under the impression that the idea of mixing folk and punk music together is a modern one. However, while the folk may not be quite as upfront in the music, New Model Army were already experimenting with it in their music back in 1989's Thunder and Consolation
Straight from the beginning it is clear that New Model Army isn't your typical punk band. Starting with rising cymbals and synthesizer, album opener 'I Love The World' immediately focuses more on atmosphere than lively punk riffs. That's not to say that it lacks energy though; when the guitars come in they are loud and aggressive yet are still catchy and melodic. While it is not until the second song that the folk aspect of the music appears with the introduction of acoustic guitars, 'I Love the World' pretty much sums up Thunder and Consolation
's overall sound well with it's experimental mixture of genres, aggressiveness and catchy melodies.
It is the folkier tracks that work the best though. Some songs like 'Green and Gray' add more depth to the band's sound, retaining much of the energetic sound of the heavier tracks while adding some fantastic folk melodies and more variety which is much needed for an album that lasts an hour and does drag on a bit by the end.
The real highlight is 'Vagabonds', which features the fantastic and genuinely beautiful violin playing of busker Ed Alleyne-Johnson who plays on a violin he carved with a kitchen knife. He appears in other parts of the album but this is where he makes the biggest contribution. The folk aspect of the music never gets at all cheesy or comes at all close to overpowering the music, always complimenting the punk sound but not ever acting against it.
The only real problem is Justin Sullivan's vocals. While he is not really a 'bad' singer, and sometimes his singing can actually be very good, especially on the lighter songs, his singing can be quite inconsistent and often sounds very average. He sometimes seems to put too much emphasis on certain words, sounding quite odd. Sometimes it sounds like he is consciously trying to sing in a 'punk' or 'folk' style. However, the singing is never too off-putting and is always at least bearable. Despite any problems with the singing Sullivan has definitely come up with some very catchy vocal melodies and great choruses on all of the songs. His lyrics are consistently brilliant too. They often keep a certain 'punk attitude' yet are also poetic, complex and sometimes quite complex.
While all of the musicianship is excellent, much of the emphasis is placed on the rhythm section with the heavy drums and excellent bass lines mixed in very loudly. Despite this however, it is the sparser tracks like 'Inheritance' which feature little more than vocals, drums and bass that are the weaker tracks of the album. Without the guitar hooks the music is much less gripping. Luckily there are only a few of these tracks though.
Overall, Thunder and Consolation
is an excellent album. Despite some slightly mediocre singing at times and an overlong running time, the quality songwriting, catchy riffs and melodies, experimentation and lyrics more than make up for it's flaws.