The Music have made a leap for artistic greatness. They don't quite make it, but the...
Jaime Gill 2002-11-20
Welcome To The North is that rock cliché, the difficult second album, and that is exactly why it is so exciting. In a year where bands like The Strokes and The Thrills have released sophomore efforts which have shown exactly zero musical progression, which have been *easy* second albums, this sees The Music make a leap for artistic greatness. They don't quite make it, but the attempt itself makes for an exhilarating listen.
It kicks off with the title track, and kicks off is exactly the right phrase - this is the sound of a drunken brawl on a wet Northern street, built on layers of brutish guitar and a strident, desperate vocal from Robert Harvey. On their debut, Harvey sounded whiny as often as he sounded heroic. On this record he has perfected his instrument, pushing it to howling, raging extremes one moment, then scatting guttural rhythms the next.
Like Harvey's voice, Welcome To The North often teeters towards the absurd, but even a song as silly as "Freedom Fighters" is redeemed by its epic scale and the virtuosity of Adam Nutter's guitar work (though Harvey will one day weep with shame that he ever sang "dance for the freedom, fathers of the world"). "Bleeding From Within" has a far better lyric, a fierce denunciation of a war which the vast majority of today's careerist rock stars haven't even noticed, perfectly matched by a bruising, brooding musical backdrop which recalls The God Machine at their bleakest.
Listening to this album is an intense experience, without a doubt, whether mournfully so in the minor chords and despairing melody of "Fight The Feeling" or ragingly so in the frantic, guitar juggernaut that is "Cessation". Not that The Music totally disdain pop - the nagging keyboard riff and giddy handclaps of "Breakin" make it the album's most lovable and immediate moment.
There are occasional misfires. A song as pompous and blatantly indebted to Urban Hymns as "Guide" verves on the ridiculous. But the blatant sincerity of Welcome To The North, the fact that it so clearly cares about music and itself, makes it deeply rewarding. And the best thing about itis that it feels like a stepping stone to somewhere even better.