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Album Review: Noah and the Whale, ‘Last Night On Earth’ – Fink snaffles our attention with his characteristic vocal voodoo

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I found myself attributing the title of ‘my modern-day Shakespeare’ to Charlie Fink this week. I have a great respect and admiration for both wordsmiths and as a writer; I find each to be a great source of personal inspiration.  It was the great Bard of Avon himself that once said:

When griping grief the heart doth wound, and doleful dumps the mind oppress, then music with her silver sound…with speedy help doth lend redress. (Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Sc 5)

I think it would be fair to say that we have heard both griping grief and the contents of Fink’s oppressed mind in the music and lyrics of Noah and the Whale’s second album, ‘The First Days of Spring’ (August, 2009), which to some came as somewhat of an unwelcome shock after the peppy folk-pop delights of debut record,‘Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down’ (August, 2008); what comes next however, is a sound as equally unexpected as it is gratifying; as deviating as it is habitual.

And with latest album ‘Last Night on Earth’ (released March 7th, 2011), what redress indeed doth Fink lend.

The Petty, Reed and Springsteen influences on this record have all been well documented, but for me what truly stands out from these tracks is the evolution of Fink’s songwriting style. An avid lover and maker of film; Fink has always described himself as a visual songwriter, likening each track to a particular scene or location. On this record, his ability to depict lives and landscapes so intimately, makes you wonder whether these fictional characters and metaphorical recollections are in fact the very real contents of Fink’s predisposed cinematic mind…and if so, what an intoxicating life he doth lead. Enough of the blatant misuse of prose methinks…

I do feel that lyrically it was a leap forward for me. It was writing out of my comfort zone, writing in a new style, with new subjects. It opens up a whole new world to write; once you’ve opened up the third-person narrative it means you have to rely less on your own life and it’s more fantasy and fiction. (Charlie Fink speaking to The Guardian, February 24th, 2011)

I consider the third-person narrative to be the most challenging in which to write; having to take yourself out of your own thoughts and experiences and put yourself in to the mind of another. Can you ever really leave your own personality behind or will every ‘fictional’ character bear some hallmark of your own self?  This previous penchant for first-person profound prose was the very quality that drew me to the temple of Fink and his compadres a couple of years back and they appear to be getting very comfortable with the status of higher musical beings; opting to record ‘Last Night On Earth’ in a synagogue in Bethnal Green. There were of course the obligatory trips to LA jotted around too; not a perk that your regular run-of-the-mill deity gets to partake in.

So, to the record itself.

1. ‘Life Is Life’

…and it feels like his new life can start and it feels like heaven.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. For Noah fans of old, the opening track shocks you with synths as the band experiment with a new and rather eclectic soft rock sound. It becomes apparent after the first few chords that this record is a million miles away from their second album; channelling an air of hope and possibility for the future, as opposed to disillusionment and negative self-worth. The band has returned refreshed, with a new outlook and creative inspirations; Fink appears mended and as a fan, I can’t help but feel rather proud. ‘Life Is Life‘ raises your spirits and your expectations for those tracks which follow.

2. ‘Tonight’s The Kind Of Night’

…tonight’s the kind of night, where everything could change…and tonight he’s not gonna come back home.

This track has more of a pop rock feel to it; echoing the life affirming and positive sentiments of the album opener. Fink sings about being open to the prospect of change and the idea of venturing out at night, not knowing what experiences await you and not being afraid in that regard. The character which the track focuses on, decides that he’s not only going to welcome change, but he’s also going to shed the safety net of domesticity by never returning home. I enjoy Country music in the same regard; tracks often speak about leaving your small home town and embarking on a journey to a more exciting, more liberating place. That place may simply be the nearest city, but the message remains the same; sometimes you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone in order to truly discover what you are capable of. The harmonies and vocal accompaniment on this track deliver an almost gospel-like performance, which helps to solidify its position in the Noah and the Whale catalogue of  classic rousing riffs.

3. ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N’

This track was the first single to be released from the album and the band started performing it live last year. I had the pleasure of reviewing one of these shows, in the most spectacular venue you could imagine – Manchester Cathedral. Hearing their tracks performed live in such an intimate and visually stimulating environment, was an experience that I will never forget. I remember hearing this track at the close of the set and thinking that it sounded very distinctly different to their previous releases; clearly a taster of what was to come with this record. This beautiful and addictive example of melodic folk-rock, focuses on the lead characters of Lisa and Joe. Both are small town drifters, working in a bar and living out of a case respectively. This track is about the power of the individual; it says that life isn’t about what you’ve got, rather what is in your soul. The simple instrumentation and violin and string accompaniment just make the lyrics of the track all the more effective. ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N‘ is the heart and soul of this album.

Charlie and Tom recently spoke about the music videos which provided inspiration for the album tracks, these were by such artists as Tom Waits, Lou Reed and Tom Petty. I have included a link to this piece below:

4. ‘Wild Thing’

For me, this track is a merging of two cultures; electric-stringed americana, with a soft yet unmistakably British electro synth-pop styling. The track is soothing and ideal to kick back to on a lazy weekend, or perhaps the soundtrack to a spectacularly scenic road trip…to be fair, any situation which requires a little bit of soul.

5. ‘Give It All Back’

This track opens with an almost Hawaiian feel to it, marrying cool xylophone sounds with the electric guitar. Fink recounts the summer of ’98, living in the suburbs and planning his escape. He describes the band’s first live performance at a school assembly where he had felt nervous and awkward, yet the passion remained ‘real and profound.’ Fink continues to appear slightly nervous I think when performing live, yet never crosses that line into ignorance or complacency towards the audience; which I might add, I have experienced on a couple of occasions with other perhaps more well known traditionally folk acts.  The track is reflective throughout and speaks about the forming of close friendships, likening his band to soulmates. I can’t imagine Fink and his band mates ever changing; their appeal in part lies in their modesty and almost aversion to the bright lights. This is definitely one of my favourites.

6. ‘Just Me Before We Met’

This would be perhaps the most typically folk-sounding track from the album, with a glorious performance by Tom on the violin. It speaks about looking through old photo albums, perhaps whilst in a new relationship, and laughing at who you once were. Fink tells us not to be shy and to be proud of our past, embarrassing as it might be. Clearly he hasn’t been subjected to my last year of Junior school photo and the notorious half up-half down hairdo. Jane Harris (aka Plain Jane Superbrain) of Neighbours fame has a lot to answer for.

7. ‘Paradise Stars’

This track is a 1:30 interlude, with trademark Noah and the Whale atmospheric keys throughout. The track grabs you and pulls you in, in the same vein as ‘Instrumental I‘ and II on ‘The First Days of Spring.’ I’d love to know what’s floating around in Fink’s head when he composes such pieces; much beauty and splendour I expect.

8. ‘Waiting For My Chance To Come’

By this point in the album, it is clear that the band has more than successfully managed to merge both folk and rock influences on this record; we have the ever brilliant Tom providing his staple sensory overload on the violin, whilst Fink snaffles our attention with his characteristic vocal voodoo. This track speaks about the true meaning of being independent; choosing to be with another person, yet not needing them to make you happy. Fink muses that it takes ‘…real guts to be alone‘ and ‘… it’s hard to feel like you’re worth something in this life.’ The message of the track being that it doesn’t have to take another person to quantity your worth; if they want to and you’re happy to hear it then great, but only you can ever know your own true value. Fink does speak of a ‘love interest’ in the track, but it’s unclear whether that love is a person or his renewed sense of self; either way, I’m happy!

9. ‘The Line’

This track focuses on the crossroads that we all reach in life at some point; whether to stay or whether to leave. The female protagonist of the track looks out of her window and tries to decide whether her life is the line between heaven and hell. The window analogy brought me to mind of the band’s second album, on which windows feature recurrently. The analogy couldn’t be more different however, as in this case the protagonist is still hopeful of something better to come; the focus instead being on her own decision as to whether she wants to change things. On ‘The First Days of Spring‘, the emphasis was more on the fact that Fink couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, instead just seeing his own reflection and not liking what he saw. The track flows gently in a synth-laden melodic fashion, never giving even the slightest hint of gloom, choosing instead to teeter on the edge of the emotional waterfall, as opposed to diving right in without your goggles.

10. ‘Old Joy’

The final track on the album showcases the raw emotion ever-present in Fink’s vocals; to think that he wasn’t even going to perform his own tracks, deciding instead to write for others rather than have to perform on stage. Fink delivers a magical performance accompanied by piano and choir; the impact of both being powerful and poignant. He says that day by day, the old joy comes back and tells us not to dream of yesterday. And what a note to conclude this Noah and the Whale love-in on.

Noah and the Whale are touring the UK, including the following North West dates:

Weds 30th March 2011, 7:30 pm – Deaf Institute, Manchester

Tuesday 3rd May 2011, 7:30 pm – The Ritz, Manchester

Monday 9th May 2011, 7:30 pm – Stanley Theatre, Liverpool

For tickets and more information, please visit:


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