The Hours - Narcissus Road
Debutants they may be in this case, yet Ant Genn and Martin Slattery are quite the veterans of Brit-rock, with combined CVs including roles in Joe Strummer’s Mescaleros, Black Grape, Elastica and Pulp. A Sheffielder and Mancunian respectively, Genn would not have guessed - growing up idolising The Clash - that he would later be a part of the late Strummer’s remarkable comeback outfit, and where he would too be acquainted with fellow Mescalero, Slatterley, who grew from a jazz upbringing where he was considered a prodigal multi-instrumentalist, performing alongside his father at various Manchester Working Men’s clubs.
First and foremost, their comparative wealth of experience to fellow 2007 newcomers is clearly on show in ‘Narcissus Road’; their first-hand contact with key lyrical influences – in Strummer, Ryder and Cocker – has set them up soundly to put out their dream album, described by singer Genn, as “communicating to people about the human condition”. Topically, an Everest to tackle in eleven tracks, and one in which intended focus could so easily produce a confused, self-indulgent façade. But their straightforward and no-nonsense approach has resulted in quite simply, a tour de force.
What works so well is the polarisation between lyrics and instrumentation. When so often the scepticism within the portrayals of subjects suggests a dominatingly grim outlook, their placements amongst epic, uplifting musical structures, emphasises The Hours’ belief that there are always solutions to the many flaws within humanity, and if not solutions, positive origins. This is heard no more in the triumphant, ‘Back When You Were Good’, arguably Narcissus’s finest hour, and closely followed by the crash and burn story of ‘Icarus’, positioned beautifully next to a floating piano riff and enriching chorus climax. ‘Icarus’ continues the title track’s theme of Greek mythology as a symbolic tool, and of course debut single, the anthemic ‘comeback’ number ‘Ali In The Jungle’ uses the same method (though different historical periods), to an Arcade Fire-esque pulsating accompaniment.
Not all falls obviously into the anthem category, as the balladry of ‘I Miss You’, and the infectious punk-funk of ‘I Need To Know’ will testify to. And not to take anything away from the consistent credibility of such alternative tracks, but the more familiar luminosity of their epic sound, gives Keane and Coldplay a tough run for their money, even if at times the lyrical content can verge on slightly preachy.
Nonetheless ‘Narcissus Road’ is a delightfully refreshing record of meaningful value. Their aim to connect with their audience over love, life, death, success, failure and redemption is already a completed mission. I don’t normally do ‘end of year top tens’, but a few more of this calibre, and I might just have to. Highly recommended.