Noah and the Whale is one of those bands you truly never know what to expect from musically. Their first album drew immediate comparisons to Belle & Sebastian and Arcade Fire, but when Charlie Fink and Laura Marling had a painful breakup, the result was 2009’s The First Days of Spring, the most stunning post-breakup album since Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, if you’ll forgive me for a bit of hyperbole. Fink laid every ounce of his pain out on the floor like a corpse, dissected and profiled it, then put it back together for us to marvel at.
Of course it was impossible to imagine how the band could follow that up. There would obviously be no repeating the previous album, but the sonic divergence of Last Night On Earth from everything the band’s crafted before is a minor miracle in itself. Add to that the fact that this is also the best tribute to Springsteen to come out in years, while actually building on the original sounds to create something completely of today, and it’s positively mind-blowing!
It’s impressive that the individual songs stand up well on their own, while providing the perfect soundtrack to a film that’s never been made. One listen through the album’s short, tightly-constructed thirty minute story and it’s impossible not to close your eyes and see the action playing out as the film of a character’s coming of age during the age of Springsteen. Of course it comes skewed through the perspective of a group of indie-folk Brits, which makes the spot-on success of this effort even more worth applauding.
The music itself manages to draw us into the requisite sound immediately, but the real depth of this album comes from Fink’s lyrics. From “Tonight’s The Kind Of Night,” Fink writes, “There’s a boy with his head pressed up to the window, the bus headed out of town. His breath on the glass, he draws with his finger the map of the roads they go down. He circles the streetlights, the only signal there’s people out there in the black. And he waves goodbye to the town he grew up in; he knows that he’ll never come back. But the night outside is far below, his heart is pumping blood; on his lips a perfect smile, his eyes begin to flood because tonight’s the kind of night where everything can change!” In 50 seconds, he’s summed up the entire album’s thesis, the whole reason we’ll be playing these 10 songs over and over to break it down fresh.
I’m not going to break the songs down one by one here. That’s what the first listen is supposed to do. Fink and his band Noah and the Whale have managed to create the perfect tribute to Springsteen with this album because they’re willing to build on the sounds that came before with a story that is at once their own, while also being one we’ve all experienced. Meanwhile, they’ve taken such a magnificent leap forward that this sound is suddenly new again, and all their own.
Modern-day pop albums don’t get any better than this, and you can say you heard it here first.