Mercury, 2011

This isn’t so much a weird record, but a weird situation. I absolutely loathed this upon first listen. I kept wondering what this electro-pop crap was that I was hearing after Noah and the Whale’s 2009 masterpiece First Days of Spring. That record was painful and introverted, symphonic and timeless. Whereas Last Night On Earth opens with such odd synths; such a trite, meaningless song title (“Life Is Life”); and such a goofy, soaring hook. Owl City without the annoying little kid voice? Panic At The Disco during one of their more experimental and less cookie-cut tracks? For shame.

But I took a big, hypocritical step back and realized that wishing for First Days of Spring 2: Electric Boogaloo was exactly what I’ve criticized other closed-minded fans of pining for with their favorite bands, and that FDOS was also monumentally different from the band’s debut Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down. So I tried it again a couple days later. And again. And again. And now I’m thinking that maybe it was unreasonable expectations that garnered my previous reaction because this music ain’t bad, it’s downright catchy. In fact, it’s precisely what a band should do upon creating something so moving as their last, epic break up album: make something light, fun and vastly different.

The record continues Noah and the Whale’s penchant for ambition, telling stories surrounding characters and, as the title would have you believe, their last night on earth. But it’s a contrarian album, in that, despite it being a concept record it actually sounds better when broken up. There are some really fun singles here (“L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.”, “Just Me Before We Met”) that stand out on their own rather than confined within the scope of the record. And since the concept itself is a little hokey and overplayed; after all the idea of remorse and redemption at the end of someone’s journey is pretty standard, it’s nice to see that its contents are lighthearted enough to be overlooked.

Songwriting remains strong throughout, there is a big grab bag of hooks here. The indie pop of the group’s debut is twisted ever so slightly towards a more industrial bent, and there are hints of electronica on the opening cut and “The Line”. The whole album feels, appropriately, nocturnal. There is freedom and joy in a lot of the music, but it always feels slightly stilted, and about ready to end. In these regards, the band nailed its concept musically right on the head.

Ultimately, even if you’re not a fan of this particular incarnation of NATW, you’ve gotta give it up for these young English lads. They’re true artists, and have created three separate records that manage to find ways to be extraordinary in three very different ways. And I like the idea of being surprised by a band’s latest release rather than being simply pleased because there’s a better chance a record like that stays in my collection longer.