Noah & The Whale - The First Days of Spring
Review by Jack Foley
MISERY and heartbreak can make for some really interesting albums. Take Beck’s Sea Change, or even Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill… both albums that smack of personal pain and huge emotional resonance.
Noah & The Whale’s sophomore album, The First Days of Spring is born from similar tragedy – namely, the end of the relationship between lead singer Charlie Fink and Laura Marling.
It’s awash with sorrow and downbeat lyrics, yet somehow emerges from its despair to reward the listener with songs of epic scope and mouthwatering beauty.
Take the title track and album opener, for instance, which builds from brooding percussion and a melancholy central guitar riff (not to mention Nick Drake-style vocals), to explode into exhilarating form at around the six-minute mark. You’ll know then that you’re about to fall in love with the album.
Admittedly, Fink’s vocals aren’t the most striking and occasionally struggle to match the beauty of the lush instrumental arrangements, but there’s no denying the ambition on show, or the determination to make the most of a bad personal situation.
Our Window takes a similarly sombre slice of musical arrangement (this time from a piano) as a starting point and captivates with its stark emotional simplicity. It may be awash with cliche lyrically (there are only so many ways to convey heartbreak after all), but musically it’s breathtakingly original.
My Broken Heart, on the other hand, works well from its blend of string arrangements and a meaty central guitar riff that hints at an optimism and beauty not necessarily found in the lyrics.
And then just when you think you have the measure of proceedings, Fink and company throw you a beauty of a curve – an orchestral interlude book-ended by two lovely, stirring instrumentals, and a lively, vivacious, even celebratory song called Love Of An Orchestra.
Opening with a choir urging you to “run from hope”, it’s an enchanting offering that broadens the cinematic range of the album as a whole. There’s even a rejuvenated Fink singing “I know I will never be lonely, I’ve got songs in my blood”. You’ll want to fling your arms into the air with wild abandon and dance around the garden like some lovelorn central romantic hero in a movie musical. It’s magnificent.
Thereafter, the album returns to more straight-forward mode but continues to impress.
A one-night stand forms the inspiration for Stranger, an explicit, brutally honest lament of sorts that offers a more sobering moment of introspection, before former single Blue Skies ups the ante once more amid more choral flourishes, layered instrumentation and beautifully realised guitar riffs.
It’s a break-up anthem for sure (“this is a song for anyone with a broken heart”) but one that somehow manages to inspire anything but angst and misery in the listener.
Indeed, with Slow Glass and the U2-esque My Door Is Always Open ushering the LP to an equally impressive close, you really have to start wondering how, if this is the sound of Charlie Fink at his most heartbroken and low, what kind of beauty he’ll be capable of once he’s healed.
It’s well worth considering as you bask in the sound of The First Days of Spring… just how much brighter can his summer songs be? We look forward to finding out!
Download picks: The First Days of Spring, Blue Skies, Love Of An Orchestra, My Broken Heart, Our Window, Slow Glass
- Buy it on CD (Amazon)
- Buy the Deluxe CD & DVD (Amazon)
- Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down reviewed