Black Country, New Road – For the First Time
Black Country, New Road’s first two singles, Sunglasses and Athens, France, prompted sensational reviews from major names in the music world. Their live performances spellbound audiences, earning the band a cult status across the UK and far-flung corners of Europe. Simply put, for anyone who’s had the privilege to witness one of their gigs, Black Country is a group like no other: astonishingly fresh. After a year of heavy touring based on a fledgling repertoire, Black Country’s long-awaited debut album is here. The only question is: does For the First Time live up to the hype?
To reflect where they’re at today, Black Country re-recorded the initial pair of songs that propelled their rise. Where lead singer Isaac Wood’s shattered spoken word once stepped out from a backdrop of sprawling instrumentals – its contrast foregrounding precocious lyrics that belied the writer’s youth – it’s now softened into half-sung lines that meld together with the seven-piece band. The results may divide fans.
In For the First Time’s context, these re-recordings aren’t out of place. Yet – judged against its original version – the new Sunglasses falters lyrically. It feels overwrought; one too many brush strokes were added to a finished work. The formal resemblance is undeniably there, but a song that once staggered listeners with an intoxicatingly personal (fictional) narrative now feels ghostly and distant.
Athens, France, on the other hand, unveils newfound softness, revealing Black Country’s growth since the original recording. As a genre-blending post-punk-jazz band complete with saxophone, violin and keys, it takes guts to be quiet. The song opens in silent moments into a figure more sharply drawn, delicate and poised than its original release.
Science Fair’s beautifully ominous, synth-fuelled dream of sexual frustration erupts into cola-stained chaos. Ever-rooted in the first person, Wood’s lines take listeners on a cathartic run into black country only to find it darkly forested, claustrophobic; its branches lashing violently in the wind.
If one is listening to Black Country, New Road for the first time, their debut album is undeniably virtuosic. Lyrically joyous, playful in its shifting time signatures and saxophonic car horns, the composition is absolutely brimming with talent and depth. If, on the other hand, one has already seen how majestic this group can be, the transcendental experience Black Country so often offers shows up only in fleeting moments. And, unsustained, For the First Time falls bewilderingly, intangibly short of this young band’s known potential.
Photo: Max Granger
For the First Time is released on 5th February 2021. For further information or to order the album visit Black Country, New Road’s website here.
Watch the video for Science Fair here: