Written by: Dave Cantrell
We don’t say this lightly, we don’t say this flippantly or for some click-worthy rhetorical effect. We say it because our yearnings are straining at the very ends of their tethers as we take receipt of the newest effort from Philadelphia-based outfit Northern Arms and restraint isn’t in the offing. Finally ,we say, redemption! Pure rock’n’roll redemption, you’re back!
For three minutes thirty seconds the world tilts off on to a sublime axis where once again, as was the case with the astounding debut single “What You’ve Got On,” the achingly rapturous shimmer of hope displaces all that’s inclement in our national weather right now (and that’s beside the fact that that first song, even as a couple years have slipped past, still just stops our heart in its beating track EVERY DAMN TIME. But that’s how love at first hearing is, isn’t it?). And it’s funny, because this new advance track “Away with Words,” taken from upcoming second album Chapel Cabaret, in a way similar to that breathtaking track linked above and the entire full-length that followed, isn’t exactly, in lyric or tone, uplifting. It is, in fact, a bit unsettling, dealing as it does with themes of romantic dislocation, of the kind of dulled apathy that sets in like rot when the flame that ignited two lovers at the outset has dimmed and spluttered to the point where there is no place to hide, no guises left to fall back upon. So, OK, same old story rewritten more or less, but oh my, it’s in the way it’s rewritten where, as always, the glory lies.
Punctuated once more by sharp northern horns and swathed in a defiant pathos that seems equally full of surrender and accusation, especially as voiced by singer Keith Peirce whose tone we hear walking that tightrope tension between the anger of the betrayed and the desperation of the forsaken, “Away with Words” is another entry into that uniquely American songbook populated by Mark Lanegan, Joe Henry, by the shaking anger of the Gun Club, a full and fulsome emotional testimony accompanied by an earworm guitar hook and some restless gypsy accordion to help bring home the heartache. Imagine if you would the Band – let’s say with Richard Manuel at the mic – saddled with a soulful Motown jones and some well-earned punk rock vitriol and you’re in the same tremulous zone in which “Away with Words” stakes its claim. None of which is to mention the visuals, the bathing and trickery and the putting of words into mouths, that last, as portrayed, the ultimate act of disarming. Not to over analyze, nor to over simplify, but this idea that the person you’re actually railing at with all those words of pain and recrimination is, in the end, yourself? Well yeah, we’ve all lived that. But that’s just ice on the conceptual cake here, because frankly, the screen could be blank for every second of those 3 ½ minutes and we’d be just as moved. Don’t know about you, but for us here at SEM the return of Northern Arms at full strength is enough to make us believe we’re going to survive this sorry absurdist national drama after all. Art, as it turns out, does save lives.