Few bands are as misunderstood as New Model Army. Received wisdom paints them as clog-wearing demagogues whose hectoring post-punk agit-prop was more Lenin and Trotsky than Lennon and McCartney.
Actually, received wisdom is pretty bang on for once – you’d never get Van Halen quoting passages from 13th-century proles’ charter the Magna Carta on the back of their albums, as NMA did on 1985’s No Rest For The Wicked. But it also glosses over the fact there was way more to them than mouldy army surplus shirts and roaches made from old CND leaflets./o:p
This five-CDs-in-a-budget-box collection captures the Bradford band at their galvanising/polarising peak between 1985 and 1991. The four studio albums and one live record collected here chart their journey from granite-faced firebrands (No Rest… and the following year’s equally blunt The Ghost Of Cain) through to the more measured (1989’s artistic high-water mark Thunder And Consolation and 1990’s Impurity).
The stentorian social and political commentary on the likes of breakthrough single No Rest, anti-drug tirade Heroin and the anthemic 51st State (‘…of America!’) instantly date-stamp them to the Thatcher era. But there’s tenderness between the tirades: the acoustic Lovesongs finds passion within the political, while the unbearably poignant Green And The Grey is almost cinematic in its exploration of small-town life.
And as their line-up expanded from the original trio, they moved on from the stark, bass-heavy sound that defined their early years: the fiddle-led Vengeance (from Thunder And Consolation) brought together the worlds of 80s post-punk and British folk, while Eleven Years (from Impurity, their most undeservedly overlooked album) even added a tinge of psychedelia to the mix.
Three decades since they first marched forth from West Yorkshire, New Model Army are still very much a going concern, the devoutly loyal following they’ve accrued sustaining a career where their compatriots long ago died on the vine. Yes, they’re still a black hole when it comes to glamour, and now, as then, their records are hardly overburdened with laughs. But as these albums show, this most wilfully unfashionable of groups deserve a place in the pantheon of great bands these septic isles have thrown up./o:p