Field Music’s forth album Plumb initially seems like a step backward. their previous album, Measure, was an impressive double album with huge scope and topped our 2010 album chart. On first listen Plumb seems to have more in common with 2007’s Tones of Town and runs at a very modest 36 minutes across the 15 tracks. Subsequent listens (and this is an album that deserves and demands repeated listens) reveal more and more depth to the album and as much ambition as ever.
Opening track, ‘Start The Day Right’ is a case in point, demonstrating a MaCartneyesque knack for different song sections together in one place. It opens like a chamber pop piece before moving into prog meets new wave guitars followed by a Beatle influenced piano segment and back to the guitars again before coming to a halt. Think ‘A Day In The Life’ by way of ‘Band On The Run’ played by XTC and you’ll not be far wrong.
The effect is made more so by the way one song moves to the next, the first three songs on the album could be one, but sound like ten.Also worth noting in this section is the drums on ‘It’s OK To Change’, both Brewis brothers are drummers and the drums always sound great on their records, in this case they come close to a Phil Collin’s sound (and I mean that in a good way).
Track four, ‘A New Town’ brings a change of pace as the band return to the falsetto white funk that they first attempted on Measure’s ‘Let’s Write A Book’. Bringing different musical styles together in a cohesive fashion isn’t unique, their mix of new wave and prog rock is something we’ve heard before, but by successfully bringing the post-Beatles sounds of ELO and funk into the mix they have something a little bit special. The only band I can think of that managed that level of musical scope without losing their identity was Talking Heads circa Remain In Light when Adrian Belew was playing with the band. The big difference here is that Field Music is essentially two people, where David Byrne brought dozens of musicians to the party, along with Brian Eno, to achieve his ideal sound.
The Brewis brothers play and produce the songs brilliantly layering instruments and vocals together to create their signature sound. They don’t get enough credit for the quality of the vocals on their records, and their harmonies are pretty faultless throughout. This is demonstrated on ‘How Many More Times?’ an acapella number that isn’t scared to play the Beach Boys at their own game, and does it pretty well. This track is followed up by ‘Ce Soir’ which is almost entirely orchestral instrumental, bar a short piano and vocal section at the finish. It is these small understated touches that make Plumb such a satisfying album, and one that you’ll want to come back to again and again.
The Brewis brothers have probably given up on stardom by now, the music buying public have been lukewarm on them from the start, despite their back catalogue being as good as any of their contemporaries, but they must know that they have a loyal following. This leaves them free to make the kind of album that they want to make, and free to make an album that is sequenced in the way that they want to. ‘(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing’ is a brilliant track, and the most commercial song on the album, but they leave it until last – a confident move.
It has been a pretty excellent year for albums so far and with Plumb we have another near perfect release. If you haven’t been sold on Field Music by any of their previous releases you are unlikely to be converted here, but you are clearly a lost cause. If you love their previous work you may find Plumb takes some time to reveal its brilliance, but once it does you’ll be hooked.
By Dorian Rogers