Record review: The New Mendicants – Into The Lime [Ashmont /XPT]

new_mendicants_-_into_the_lime_-_album_mini_sm_2Many of the songs on Into The Lime were originally written to soundtrack the film version of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, a novel about four people who meet on the roof of the aptly named Toppers’ House with the intention of committing suicide.

The uplifting twist is that they fail in their endeavours, and it’s similarly fortunate that The New Mendicants failed, initially, in theirs.

 

Since their songs didn’t make the film’s final cut, they (like Hornby’s characters) can enjoy a new lease of life on this charming 10-track LP.

As is to be expected from Norman Blake, frontman of Teenage Fanclub, it all seems like sweetness and light at first.

Opener ‘Sarasota’ conjures wide-vista footage of interstate highways at sunset, captured on grainy Super 8.

The theme is unfettered generosity: of moving outwards to take, rather than inwards to retreat, “it’s free, it’s free / there’s copious amounts here,” invites Blake on the chorus.

But if the opener puts one in mind of a carefree Florida summer, then the seasons quickly change, as characteristically gloomy lyrical content comes to the fore on ‘A Very Sorry Christmas’.

The irrepressibly jangly guitars quickly mark out its Fanclub-esque sonic territory, over which Blake paints a bleak picture of a depressed narrator locked out on snowy streets, gazing wistfully through frosted windows at idyllic scenes of log-fired Yuletide cheer.

Subdued acoustic ballad ‘Follow You Down’ – about a girl leaping off a ledge to her death – continues to plough the suicidal furrow, but like the other acoustic tracks on this record, it’s more meandering, and less memorable.

Album highlight ‘Shouting Match’ showcases what The New Mendicants do best: sweetly fuzzy, economical power pop with a lyrical darkness lurking beneath a deceptively sunny surface.

There’s a kitchen-sink focus on the quotidian minutiae of relationship breakdown here: “10% of teapots end up smashed against the wall,” Blake sings with a humorous precision: “it started as a lover’s spat / now it’s World War Three in a third-floor flat”.

Title track ‘Into The Lime’ builds upon the same formula of light-over-dark: stomping, carnivalesque verses give way to a soaring chorus that sounds like it should arrive with the full force of a chamber orchestra.

It’s hard to say whether rambling, grungy closer ‘Lifelike Hair’ is a stand-out or just stands out-of-place, the itchy, sustained pedal note and restless organ noodling ironically puts one more in mind of Suicide, while the esoteric lyrical references to “five rugged men with lifelike hair” don’t quite congeal into a discernible narrative – juxtaposed with the pastoral songwriting that precedes it, it’s a disorienting conclusion.

But hairs – lifelike or not – really shouldn’t be split here, you know what you’re bound to get where Norman Blake is involved, and the addition of Joe Pernice (Pernice Brothers) and Mike Berlitsky (The Sadies) only breathes more warmth into these effortlessly likeable, life-affirming songs.

Recommended listening – especially if you happen to find yourself on the roof of Toppers’ House.

Words: Graham Neil Gillespie

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