The Sunderland band return as inventive as ever, but it's not as easy a listen as it should be.
The double album is a concept traditionally held together by a grand, unifying idea. One need only look to works such as Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness or The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads to see exactly what is possible with this grandiose framework -- the musical ideas seep seamlessly into the more cerebral ones, yielding both excellent ‘bits’ and an overriding success. Of course, these areas are just the start of the double album’s successful deployment. It has almost become the pop equivalent of the symphony, a work that can be as tiring as it is rewarding, and frequently leaning too heavily on the former. Field Music, hailing from Sunderland, have sought to nullify this image we all have of the format.
This second self-titled LP (third overall, and subtitled Measure to distinguish it from the first) is mammoth in concept at 20 tracks, but purposely bereft of anything holding it together. In a boldly contrary move, brothers and front-men Peter and David Brewis wanted to make their kaleidoscopic and extremely English pop music as big as it could be and then have it make no sense at all, thematically. The whole point is that the songs are unconnected, and that the album itself is just a long collection. They have limited their ensemble to traditional rock strictures with the odd brass section and string quartet thrown in at opportune moments, and there’s very little else that you could do to describe it. As they say, it is what it is.
Musically, touchstones of Led Zeppelin and the Who provide something of a backwards compatibility, but there are certain modernisms that de-stabilise and add interest. The tricky guitar duels of “Them That Do Nothing” are daringly reliant on one another, but the whole is dashed off with summary ease, a mark of intuitive songsmithery. Even the lyrics subscribe to the thought behind the album, speaking of “standing for nothing, now there’s nothing to stand for”. Elsewhere, similar tricks are easily performed, such as on the muscular white funk of “Let’s Write a Book” and the alternately taut and free-form “Effortlessly”.
It is telling that the most expressive, ambitious tracks are the more successful throughout Field Music (Measure). Superb harmonies on “Something Familiar” and a construction seemingly engineered by reducing a Beatles-esque whimsical workout to a few minutes of jolly madness combine to great effect. It’s by far the strongest track on display and is joined by several more of near-equal brilliance and freshness, but we have to work through such an ineffectual series of mood changes and a variety of disparate songs that Field Music (Measure) falls into the same traps as so many double albums before it and becomes tiring.
Omnipresent, then, is the feeling that the concept of no concept is flawed. The self-defeating aspect of it is intellectually very attractive in its abandon, but it gives an otherwise accomplished and involving listen a stony, dismissive heart. The desire to engage and follow through is most definitely there, but because there is nothing stringing these works together it is not as inclusive as it could be. Whether this is a good or bad thing is dependent on your tolerance for pop that doesn’t wholly acknowledge its listener. There are, however, several excellent songs peppered amongst the slog, and if you discard the structural conceits of the album then it can be tremendously rewarding at times.