Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Northern Portrait - Ta!

Album review by soul1@thesoundofconfusion.com


Bringing non-album tracks together as a compilation can often lead to a fans-only patchwork of material that perhaps wasn't deemed strong enough for initial release; weak B-sides, acoustic versions or live and session recordings that don't stand up to the original, but there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. Many fans (and Brett Anderson himself) consider Suede's B-sides comp. 'Sci-Fi Lullabies' to be the band's finest album. You could also look to Belle & Sebastian's 'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' or The Stone Roses' 'Turns Into Stone' for near-faultless examples of similar collections. Perhaps a more appropriate comparison for Danish indiepoppers Northern Portrait would be The Smiths' 'Hatful Of Hollow' compilation; the Manchester heroes are, and always have been a clear influence.

The cruel may say that Northern Portrait simply ram-raid The Smiths back catalogue in a Hummer and then stride off cockily with a few Mozzer/Marr B-sides, when in truth there are plenty of songs in their arsenal that pair of writers would have happily put their names to. As an album, 'Ta!' doesn't sound like a disjointed selection of tracks they've found down the back of a sofa or hidden on old demo tapes, it sounds like a complete collection of very well-written and recorded songs that easily matches their previous long-player: this is a set of songs the trio can rightly be proud of. They've never hidden their love of '80s guitar bands and nor do they do so here, but rather than pilfer bits and bobs as best they can and try and cash-in on those who wish for the days of old, they show their own talents as top-drawer songsmiths and repeatedly impress. This is aided by several of these tunes appearing in the past as singles in their own right, and also a little touching-up being done to a few early tracks, but from start to finish this is a record that has peaks, yet it doesn't have the troughs that so often go with them.

The opening bars of 'A Quiet Night In Copenhagen' may have you thinking of Morrissey (or maybe even Gene or The Incredible Flight Of Birdman or anyone else who's fallen foul of that tiresome comparison), however, it will also put an immediate smile on your face, as will early track 'I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me' which follows it. These are songs with a freshness and a heady rush that will delight anyone who's willing to let stuffy inhibitions go. The tunes keep flowing like Champagne at midnight on New Year's Eve. 'I Feel Even Better' has a wonderful jangle and melody; 'Waiting For A Chance' does even more so; recent single 'Happy Nice Day' still sounds cracking. This could be an indication that the band are getting even better as they get set to release their second studio album next year, and for confirmation of this you need only lend an ear to the most recent song of all: 'The Young and Hopefuls' which was featured on Matinee Recordings recent fifteenth anniversary album 'A Sunday Matinee'. It would be easy to praise each of the fifteen songs here, but the best option is to simply listen without prejudice. Like anyone else, Northern Portrait have their influences, but they also have their own songs and their own talents, and on 'Ta!' they take another step towards cementing that notion in the minds of even the most cynical of listeners.







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