independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Folk's raggle taggle heart is flirting with greatness

Album Review: Noah and the Whale Heart of Nowhere (Mercury)***

Back in the murky mists of the early 1990s, Cathal Coughlan from Cork art-rock agent provocateurs The Fatima Mansions famously came up with the battle cry, "Raggle Taggle Nein Danke".

Today, a lucrative variant of polished and immaculately produced Raggle Taggle is not just the preserve of Galwegian crusties with dogs on strings and an intimate knowledge of the back catalogue of The Waterboys and The Levellers.

It has become a colossus that's mutated into a multi-million selling modern day phenomenon led by Marcus Mumford and his ilk, who dress up like hipster farmers and bang away on banjos.

The scene hovers around a nucleus of Emmy the Great, Laura Marling and the preposterously named Noah and the Whale. Now, not to be too fussy or pedantic about dumb band names, but I still find the latter's moniker absolutely impossible to take seriously.

But let's give them some credit where it is most definitely due. Ever since Charlie Fink channeled the break-up blues with scene darling Laura Marling into their last album The First Days, this troupe of quirky minstrels from Twickenham have matured.

They're certainly not afraid to further deviate from the script. Guitars chug away beautifully on Silver and Gold and are reminiscent of the subtle bittersweet melancholy of The Cars.

This is hardly the progression you'd expect from the novelty folk of yore and the jaunty and highly irritating "fun, fun, fun, sun, sun, sun" ditty on car adverts.

Strings swoop and soar throughout the title track and underpin the entire album, yet steer well clear of any unnecessary bombast or melodrama.

Sadly, despite their best efforts, a lot of the songs are sorely lacking a chorus or another idea or two to properly seal the deal. There Will Come a Time and Now is Exactly the Time are two exceptions with their memorably lilting refrains.

Noah and the Whale have grown up in public and are no longer nu folk's pack of jokers. They're certainly flirting with greatness here, but they're not quite there yet.

KEY TRACKS All Through the Night, There Will Come a Time, Now is Exactly the Time

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