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The Music: Welcome to the North

John Davidson

The Music

Welcome to the North

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2004-10-19
UK Release Date: 2004-09-20

So yeah, it's true that I was one of a small handful to champion The Music's debut release. The album took a risk, flirting dangerously with monolithic sounds that no one had touched since the dinosaurs of Heavy Rock fell extinct at the end of the '70s. I was never a great fan of those bands, not even the first time around; Zeppelin themselves took a little effort on my part. But here were these kids (teenagers, specifically) attempting to fill the void left by dance music's demise as the single most vital music force in the UK, and they were doing it with music that they and no-one else sought to appropriate. Not only that, they were inflecting it with grooves that never could have emerged previous to the dance decade they'd grown up in. This made it new and struck me as bold.

The Music was phenomenally accomplished for a group of lads so young. Vocalist Rob Harvey hollered fearlessly, with a range that made a mockery of his experience. A song like "Getaway" brought echoes of Robert Plant together with the irresistible drive of Brian Ferry circa "Let's Stick Together". The band stood alone in what they sought to accomplish, full of the potential of their own invention. I wanted to see where they were going. And so to the second album . . .

Which stinks.

Welcome to the North isn't just bad, it's an effort of duty just to make it through to the end. The title track has the redemptive quality of anthem, but the quality of what follows descends at an alarming rate. This is a cloying record that doesn't so much recall Zeppelin at their height, as The Alarm at their most irritating. It's not classic rock with a modernist twist, but reductive Eighties rock, complete with all of that genre's attendant earnestness.

I'd like to claim disappointment, but then I saw the band live in New York City several months ago, and it was there I caught an unfortunate hint of what was to come. I couldn't deny the band a precocious aptitude, yet as a group (vocalist Harvey in particular) they displayed an alarming anti-charisma. It was difficult to imagine these boys captivating anybody, so utterly lacking were they in any semblance of style or flair. It's one thing to decry style over substance (as we all are prone to do on occasion), but oh, do you miss style when it is totally in absentia. Harvey's line delivery was endlessly monotonous, all low-to-high, and his connection with the audience at zero. I left before the show's end, and I was already wary of the new album.

For me, any semblance of hope for the new album was lost as early as track three, "Bleed From Within". Much that is wrong can be heard in the opening lyric, delivered with a plaintive voice and a dramatic echo effect:

"A shock rings out across the desert sky / The sun is bleeding into mine eye".

Such self-consciously epic imagery, and more specifically, the gaudy, almost comedic use of "mine" sets the tone for a weary re-casting of familiar pagan fantasy worlds -- worlds which big-hair bands regularly traipsed us through in their attempts to follow in Page and Plant's (inimitable, as it turned out) footsteps. All of the more subtle rhythms from the earlier record are dearly departed, leaving in their place heavy, bombastic fodder. Faced with two divergent paths, the band regretfully elected to take the more familiar.

So yeah, it's fair to say The Music are off my list for now. They've retreated into territory already hacked through thoughtlessly and ad nauseum by others. Yet if the damage done here is pretty severe, it need not necessarily prove fatal. This is still, after all, the work of babes. Surely we can forgive a 20-year-old having nothing to say, or not being sure how best to say it? And can we honestly expect a great leap forward in imagination and execution from musicians so earnestly young and raw? The Music might not be the "Next Big Thing" or anything close to it, but that might eventually turn into a significant blessing. Perhaps this letdown will enable them to develop outside of the bright lights and pressure, into something still quite valuable. Either that or they'll sink without a trace -- in which case, I'll accept that I was wrong all along.

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