NOVEMBER ALBUM OF THE MONTH
For those that think the best we can hope for from young guitar bands is to recreate the glories of a bygone age – stop, and think again. With ‘Northern Sun Sessions,’ The Virginmarys land guitar music firmly in the contemporary with the release of one of most direct, powerful and evocative new albums of 2018.
With ‘Northern Sun Sessions’, The Virginmarys have gone back to their roots. In a music industry where fame can be transitory and where many obsess about the perception of success – for this album The Virginmarys take everything back to the truth within the music. The music they want to make together – and placing importance on enjoying writing and playing music together. The result is a record they wanted to make. It’s the record that most naturally and most assuredly captures who The Virginmarys are. The music arrests, the lyrics testify and – through the sum of its parts – ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ re-asserts the importance of art and craft in original music making. It’s a statement of individuality, in age where many seem to place importance on social media followings and genre labels ahead of the actual worth and originality of music. As a body of work, ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ is a welcome cold shower for those that push style over substance.
This album was not initially an easy listen. I found on first play I had to work with it. But the music reels you in; it makes you react. It makes you think about it after you’ve finished listening to it. The album is not polished: it has a raw edge, at times an elemental feel and it packs a few surprises. Hard to pigeonhole (which is good), the more you listen the more it draws you in. And the more it draws you in, the more unsatisfied I found myself listening to the less demanding blues-rock albums I played afterwards. This is involved, sensory music – not background easy listening to do the ironing to. The art of this album is that it really captures the moment, the naked truth of the music making. Without a record label to interject, the band is in full control of its musical identity and expression here – and the result is an album that has a restless honesty and directness I cannot draw comparison to with any other album release I have heard in 2018.
The album opens with ‘Look Out For My Brother’ – in musical terms, a kind of creative meeting place between Motorhead and The Beatles. A progression from the political dimension of earlier works, the album opener presents more a humanist lyrical sentiment to ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ – music to unite people, to encourage them to do the right thing and help one another. With all the political and economic unrest that has framed 2018 Britain – and loss of leadership from all political parties – The Virginmarys focus their messaging on the one universal truth we can all relate to and rely on: People – and the enduring human spirit: People taking charge of how they connect with their fellow man and woman.
‘SOS4UNI’ is a punk-infused song, with the lyrics painting pictures of car number plates lighting up in the sky. Already a strong song we have playlisted for radio, this track also prompts me to revisit my point on why The Virginmarys album stands in such stark contrast to some young bands that are producing music that – to me – sounds a bit too much like that of their heroes. The Virginmarys, as with any band, draw on clear influences. Rightly or wrongly, I can sense lyrically and musically a range of Beatles infusions. This is fine because the band doesn’t copy the Beatles, it digests the inspiration into creative output that is emphatically their own. This could only be a The Virginmarys album and instantly recognisable as them. This is a point a lot of young bands could learn from, because for guitar music to have a future, it has be original, forward-looking and be relevant to the world we live in today. The sense of clear and uncompromising musical identity is one of the over-arching achievements of ‘Northern Sun Sessions.’
The remarkable allure of ‘Eye For An Eye’ comes from the fact it is based on only two chords. Ally mentioned to me during a recent conversation that the band had never done that before but, nonetheless, the song maintains listener interest throughout. The track has a good grove and lyrically it offers an insight to the people you might meet in the music industry today. The new album has a number of firsts – the track ‘Get Me Back Home’ is the first song Ally did with a slide.
‘For Two Of Us’ is a change of mood and one of the album’s empowering rock standards. Inspired by Beatles song ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ a rock-dance beat evolves as the song builds.
‘Blind Lead The Blind’ is one of my standout tracks from the album – and we’ve had time to get to know it well. We were fortunate to premier the demo on the Friday rock show some months ago and then the first play of the album version last month. The song is relentless and builds into an epic outro, one of the standout features of the album. In some ways the dynamic evolution from a light start to surprise and lifted ending makes this – or ‘Flags’ – a perfect song to introduce to someone that’s new to The Virginmarys.
To fans of the band, there will be delight that longstanding favourite ‘Northern Sun’ has made it on an album. Lyrically, it’s the most interesting and powerful song on the new album.
‘Wanna Be Free’ is a song Ally had been playing with for a few years. It’s a journey from start to finish, with a nice melody and heavy-hitting chorus. But despite various Beatles mentions with this review, there is range and diversity with this album. ‘Step up’ in contrast gives me a sense of what could have happened if The Clash had met the Foo Fighters for a jam!
‘All Fall Down’ is another song that builds into a great outro. Working through the honest and human lyrics, this song reaches a peak that feels almost orchestral in terms of drama and power: A fitting and emphatic conclusion to an album that commands a human reaction throughout.
As a whole, the new album is a triumphant celebration of individuality. The band has made the album it always wanted to make – and made it the way they wanted to make it. It’s maybe also an album that a record label wouldn’t have let The Virginmarys make. But this is also part of the album’s triumph.
With so many new guitar bands starting up, ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ reminds us what matters – what really matters. At the end of the day it’s all about – no, it’s only about – the songs and if you’re going to be in it for the music, then make the music that you really want to make. ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ is almost brutal in its honesty, true in its heart and unapologetic in its directness. But the result is a body of work that stands as a piece of modern art, not simply a commercial commodity on this week’s ‘new releases’ list. Some may find the album raw or uncomfortable but as with all great art, quality outlives fashion – and for those that give this release some time, I have no doubt it’ll still be an album you return to and play in 10 years time. With ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ The Virginmarys have creatively made a giant step towards securing what is perhaps the holy grail of all rock musicians – a legacy.
To discover more about The Virginmarys and how to order ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ visit www.thevirginmarys.com
‘Northern Sun Sessions’ is released on 16 November 2018.