Making A New World, the latest effort from the Sunderland-based art-rock outfit Field Music, is at its core a concept album. It emerged from a set of work the duo were completing for the Imperial War Museum, to commemorate the end of the first World War. This has eventually resulted in a project that is loosely based around the ways in which that conflict affected 20th century history and culture, with the first lyrics touching on the experiences of a soldier coming home, and the last telling the story of the civil servant paying the last of Germany’s war reparations. A whole century of history is a lofty ambition indeed to set yourself.
The music itself is mostly slinky art-rock, pinned down with sparkling guitars and crystalline piano. The occasional spidery riff sneaks its way in , to remind us all that this is probably best defined as rock, but the majority of the album sits in the hinterland of 70s Bowie, treading lightly for the most part. The album can be roughly separated into twelve, well, actual songs with lyrics, and then the seven instrumentals that separate them. Herein lies my first problem with this LP; it’s difficult not to feel that the album (which spans a rather large 19 tracks) couldn’t benefit from more than a little quality control. The instrumentals, while easy on the ears, add little to the overall impression of the album, and ultimately serve only to bloat it, diluting the message that the Brewis brothers are angling for.
My second problem deals with the songs that do have lyrics. Several of the subjects dealt with here are more than a little sensitive: gender reassignment surgery, the afore-mentioned war reparations, and even a funk-based diatribe on sanitary towels. Many of these struggle to escape the grip of self-parody, with a particularly unforgettable line from ‘Only in a Man’s World’, the sanitary towel-based ballad, stating that “things would be different if the boys bled”. A reaction that you never want while listening to a concept album is cringe. I commend Field Music for attempting to deal with these hefty topics, but I can’t escape the feeling that I’d enjoy this album a lot more if it was freed from their overbearing presence.
The tracks that remain with me the most are those that can stand alone from their lyrical content. ‘Coffee or Wine’, the first song proper on the album, is the perfect example of this. It has a vocal performance evocative of Metronomy, and has some really airy production. Similarly, ‘A Change of Heir’ is a far gentler track, which although stated to be about the surgeon to first perform a gender reassignment operation, can be appreciated just as a perfectly serviceable folk ballad. So, to conclude; Making A New World is an ambitious, but ultimately misjudged concept album, which is a shame, because some of the tracks here belie Field Music’s far greater potential.