Noah and the Whale emerged from the same London posh-rock scene as Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons. Unlike Marling and the Mumfords, they haven’t gone on to be garlanded with Brit Awards or invited to play at the White House. Instead they’re a rung or two down the ladder, shifting enough copies of their last album to go platinum, but not achieving the kind of breakthrough that their songs so ardently desire.
The five-piece, led by singer Charlie Fink, release a new album next month, Heart of Nowhere, and they debuted it at a West End theatre where they’ll be appearing each Sunday over the next month. The evening consisted of two sets by the band interspersed with the showing of a short film that Fink has co-written and directed, a sci-fi dystopia about a society that brainwashes rebellious young people into pliant adulthood.
As an allegory for the present era of mass youth unemployment and Gradgrindian educational policies, Fink’s efforts deserved credit: these are themes that today’s generation of pop musicians seems too cowed to address. But the results – floppy-haired ex-public schoolboys looking maudlin in ruined Hackney warehouses – were gauche. The film also disrupted the flow of the live music, making it harder for the band to whip up an atmosphere.
The songs in the two live sets – the first 30 minutes long, then a longer one after the film – were dominated by Fink’s deep croon, delivering lines such as “Life is fleeting” and “I’m just waiting for my chance to come”. The music had a nice way of illustrating these seize-the-day sentiments, opening slowly and then building into a polite gallop, as with “Give It All Back”’s Springsteen-in-Twickenham dream of suburban escape.
New songs from Heart of Nowhere silenced the folkie elements of their early work in favour of chugging FM rock, an apt but uninspiring soundtrack for Fink’s old-head-on-young-shoulders view of growing up. “If you can, try to get to know your parents,” he counselled in “Now Is Exactly the Time”. Members of the audience, seated parent-style rather than dancing, nodded along sagely.
Old favourite “5 Years Time” finally got them to their feet: the onrush of energy was welcome but belated. Tonight’s show lacked the momentum that Noah and the Whale’s songs crave.