Published Jan 13, 2020Here we are at the dawn of 2020 — Australia is burning, the oceans are bleaching and world war might be on the horizon: the culmination of a century's worth of apparent human achievement.
Perhaps it's time for a record that looks back at the past hundred years and tries to trace where it all went south. Field Music ostensibly heard the call and Making a New World was born. Billed as the British band's first true concept album, it's about the social and cultural after-effects of World War I. If this sounds broad, that's because it is.
The record buckles under its conceptual framework almost immediately — "the 20th century, generally," is no small topic, and the idea is too wide-ranging and unruly to be conceptually cohesive. Still, Field Music remain capable of executing enjoyable art-pop — "Coffee or Wine" and "Only in a Man's World" ride a lithe mix of dynamic guitar, pounding piano and drums both live and programmed — but there's some unnecessary melodic drift. "Between Nations" meanders where it should lock in, while "A Change of Heir" is so lightweight it dissipates on contact.
It's the band's omnivorous approach to topics that ultimately does them in — air traffic control, the invention of the ultrasound, Tiananmen Square, skin grafting technology, sanitary products, the first gender reassignment, Dadaism and 2010 German war reparations just to name a few.
PJ Harvey's 2011 opus Let England Shake is an obvious comparison, but it's one worth making. Where Harvey's record considered war from a dazzling array of deeply human perspectives, Field Music attempt to explore a disorienting number of ideas from a confusingly indistinct POV.
The hyper-literal lyrics can be powerful for their candour; however, they sometimes lean clumsy, as on the funky "Only in a Man's World" — some fun Talking Heads karaoke that's swamped by a hackneyed, (though admittedly truthful) point: "tampons and pads would be free if men had their periods too!"
It's telling that Making a New World began as a sound piece commissioned by the Imperial War Museum — it feels like a project stretched beyond its means. And where it stumbles as a concept record, it only sometimes succeeds as an art-rock record. As it turns out, an important idea does not an important album make. (Memphis Industries)