It all began rather innocuously.
My orthodontist, a nice man whose job it is to inflict pain on the mouths of the young, used a ploy to motivate his patients to be disciplined with regards to their braces. If he could tell that you had been putting in your rubber bands or using your retainer properly, he would reward you with a wooden nickel. As you collect these wooden nickels, you could turn them in for prizes. I was 16 at this time and was beginning to explore the music world around me. I was rather taken at first by new wave, then by the fabulous sounds coming out of England from bands like New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, and even Art of Noise. I was a fairly avid reader of Alternative Press magazine. After a few months I had an encyclopedic knowledge of band names, but a Reader’s Digest knowledge of what these bands actually sounded like.
Indianapolis has never been a town with good radio. The best you can hear on the radio is the occasional late night show on community radio. 120 Minutes on MTV was a viewing ritual – the only way to put a sound to the band names. In 2004, 18 years later, things have not gotten any better. There is still only the occasional show on community radio and nothing else. The “new rock alternative” (their words, not mine) radio station is just a heavy metal station. I’m not sure when Metallica became alternative, but it was somewhere around the time they became hypocrites and attempted to stomp out the exact same music sharing that brought them out from the underground. But I’m beginning to stray…
At some point, I collected enough wooden nickels to trade them in for a free tape at the local mall music store. That store had a back wall that I envied. I saw all of these tapes from bands whose names I knew but whose music was as foreign to me as the setting sun is to a blind man. It may be the single most beautiful site but without the ability to enjoy it, it becomes a wasted show by Mother Nature. So I walked into the music store, gift certificate in hand, and headed straight to the back wall. Much like a kid in a candy store, I had no idea what to pick. I scanned the names. I looked at the cover art. I needed something fresh and breathtaking. I wanted something that was not electronic like New Order or Art of Noise or Depeche Mode. I didn’t want anything dour like The Cure or Joy Division. I wanted something gritty and edgy. I grabbed The Ghost of Cain by New Model Army and saw a graffitied leather jacket on the cover and the bands name drawn in the font used to mark cargo. This is what I wanted. This has to be gritty. This has to have a rough edge. This has to be unlike anything I had heard up to that time.
And it was. I remember playing the game Montezuma’s Revenge on my Commodore 128 with New Model Army playing endlessly on my tape player. I would pause the game only to flip the tape every 20 minutes. The music fit perfectly and after a week or two of listening to The Ghost of Cain while playing (and conquering) Montezuma’s Revenge, the music became ingrained in my head.
I learned all the words I could understand (still not sure if I’ve ever read the lyric sheet) and made up words for the other parts. The blend of acoustic guitar with good old amped up electrics and driving beats was just what I wanted to hear. Over the years, the tape was played so much that it is now unplayable.
Soon thereafter I found the New Model Army cassette and was not disappointed in the least. I found their early albums but wasn’t much impressed with the punk rock sound of those releases though some of the songs have grown on me over the years. It was a long two years between The Ghost of Cain and the album that sealed my fate as a New Model Army devotee: Thunder and Consolation.
In my mind, Thunder and Consolation is one of the five best albums ever. It has no bad songs. The album has thematic ideas tying things together (family being a key issue). It has sweeping violins joined by subtle and tasteful use of synthesizers. It has raucous upbeat stompers like “Stupid Questions” and “125 M.P.H.”. It has moving ballads like the supreme “Green and Grey”. And it’s chock full of other great songs such as the driving “225” and the white-rap big beat of “Inheritance”.
This tape eventually had to be thrown away due to overplay. Thankfully, the CD media became an affordable option in the early 90’s and I was able to upgrade to a fresh copy. And that album still sounds brilliant today.
For a while NMA was about the only “rock” band to which I listened. As the 90’s began, I was getting heavily into bands such as Front 242, Front Line Assembly, Ministry, and Cabaret Voltaire. I had little time for rock as there was a whole musical world to explore. And working college radio at Ball State University filled my hunger for new and interesting music. Each week, a new shipment from the music gods arrived and we ripped into them with great lust. Sometimes, the albums we received sucked ass, like the CD of the then completely unknown Michael Bolton that I had to review. That one never made the playing rotation.
Many other times, I became aware of great bands like The Darkside or Psychic TV or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. What a great time for music. And through it all, I still gave heavy listens to New Model Army, even turning one roommate into a die hard fan. Victory.
When Impurity was released, I ran out and bought my copy. It did not reach the great heights of Thunder and Consolation but it reaffirmed my devotion to New Model Army. Picking up 7″ singles for “Space” and a picture disc of “Green and Grey” while on a trip to Chicago was quite the score then and I still cherish those little slabs of vinyl. But I was working college radio and I just couldn’t give NMA as much time as before I was a DJ.
It then took NMA 3 years to release another record. Between that time, Front Line Assembly released Tactical Neural Implant another album that is in my all time top 5 and is tragically overlooked by everyone. No finer Industrial/Dance/sample-laden record has ever been produced that sounds better than this. There are other “industrial dance” bands that are better over their careers (e.g. Front 242), but no band has ever released an electronic album this well visualized. How does this relate to NMA?
By the time The Love of Hopeless Causes was released, I had already seen the bleeding edge of music as defined by Front Line Assembly. An album such as The Love of Hopeless Causes which featured no musical tricks (Where is the violin? The harmonica?) but was rather a fairly straight ahead rock record…well, it was not what I was looking for. Plus, Nirvana had released Nevermind two years earlier and changed the face of rock music. The whole “Madchester” sound was leaving me in awe.
Meanwhile, The Love of Hopeless Causes was off on its own and left me wholly unimpressed.
And that led to the “Dark Years”. It would be 5 years between the release of The Love of Hopeless Causes and Strange Brotherhood. I bought it strictly for sentimental reasons, still being fond of the late-80’s New Model Army. I was hoping for magic but I distinctly remember not being impressed. As best I can recollect, I gave it about five listens and shelved it. Between 1993 and 1999, New Model Army was, to me, a band that had lost it. It was sort of like when you have a really good friend but for some reason you grow apart. Over the years you still have fond feelings for that friend but you’ve filled that void with other things and you move on. I was moving on.
My career was taking off in the mid-to-late Nineties. I got my degree in Software Engineering but knew the whole time that I detested programming computers. It was tedious work that left me with very little satisfaction. I had a larger world-view of computers and was drawn towards operating systems and networking. So my first job out of school in 1993 was as an inside salesman for a CAD reseller. The company was a bit nuts, but I was able to dive in and learn about the computer parts that programmers aren’t taught – how to build a PC by hand; how to do entry-level networking (LANtastic, anyone?). I rolled that gig into one where I was a traveling computer networking support guy, and rolled that into becoming a manager of 14 people in 12 cities across the eastern half of the US, designing and implementing a large Wide Area Network and directing the work of my staff.
So that’s all well and good, but how does that relate to NMA? Two words: Internet access. As I got up to speed on the Internet (initially with 128K ISDN and then Cable Modems), the Internet followed suit and a collision of technologies happened: MP3’s and Napster both hit. I grabbed a copy of Napster and, when it didn’t crash, punching in search terms like “New Model Army” turned up interesting things like the live album Raw Melody Men. This album caught my ear because it was the first time I had heard an NMA concert. This recording blended the best of “classic NMA” with the best of their mid 90’s output.
That was followed a while later by downloads of All of This: The Live Rarities and …And Nobody Else. The latter was particularly good and stayed in the car CD player for months. I began to learn the songs off of albums I never paid much attention to. Around the turn of the century, I began listening to the albums released in the “dark period” and began to get an appreciation for them.
So I was now back in the swing with NMA. Thanks to the Internet and file copying, I was able to catch up with my old friend. And in 2000, NMA released their best album in quite some time with Eight. The songs were tight, smart, and seemed to recapture the spirit and essence of what pulled me into NMA in the late ’80’s. There were no stinkers on the album and it sounded like it was really alive. Just as I had reawoken as an NMA fan, NMA seemed to have a reawakening and kicked out a solid album that provided much entertainment.
Too bad for me that NMA had written off America at this point and I had to begin getting things via mail order from their website. After Eight, I then ordered Lost Songs and really enjoyed that one. And in 2003, NMA lead singer Justin Sullivan released a solo album that I had to mail order. I also mail ordered a few singles released in conjunction with that album.
I gave the solo album Navigating by the Stars every chance to win me over. And it didn’t. I tried hard to give it a fair listen but somehow I just didn’t get. Yet for some strange reason, it stayed in the car CD player for a month. At the end of that month, I finally “got” the solo CD. It’s not that I wasn’t prepared for the quiet acoustic tone of the album. Somehow it just seemed too quiet and too reserved. At the end of 2003, I rated it as the 3rd best record of the year.
Last fall, Justin Sullivan toured America for the first time in ten years. I completely missed out on the last visit. It was always my wish to see NMA live. I’ve traveled to Germany the past three summers and I always checked the NMA tour schedule to see if I would be lucky enough to be near them as they toured. It never worked out. So hearing that Justin was going to play Chicago was outstanding news. I went, I saw, I loved it.
One evening, I was at Radio Radio in Indianapolis. It is a nightclub owned by former Toxic Reasons bassist “Tufty” Clough. Tufty is a bit of a legend around these parts and his nightclub is an excellent addition to the Indianapolis music scene. It is very well decorated and brings in bands no one else would bring in. I was there for some show and I looked at a promotional flyer that was stuck to a column. I read down the list and at the very bottom was listed “New Model Army”.
What the…? Heh? I immediately walked over to Tufty to verify that this was the same band I had in mind. He confirmed as much and said that he knew the agent for NMA from his days touring England with Toxic Reasons. Essentially, Indianapolis was booked as a friendly favor as Tufty couldn’t guarantee the money NMA was requesting for the show. Somehow it all got worked out and, on April 23, 2004, New Model Army came to Indianapolis.
This is the same town that has no decent radio stations. This is the city that is smack dab in the middle of one of the largest concentrations of population in the US, a city of roughly 1 million people, yet is completely skipped as bands travel to Cincinnati from Chicago, or from Cleveland to St. Louis, or from Detroit to Louisville. We are skipped yet the bands have to drive through Indianapolis. It all has to do with a sub standard music scene. And this cities substandard music scene scored an NMA gig! Thanks Tufty.
I tried coercing any and all friends to go, knowing that the show would probably be lightly attended since no one knows NMA around here. At most 100 people showed up which was a shame. Regardless, Justin Sullivan, Michael Dean, and Dean White played as if 1,000 people were in attendance. I liked this show better than the one I saw in Chicago, partially due to the addition of Michael Dean on percussion, partially because I didn’t have to drive three hours to see them.
I’m quite a bit of a technologist and I’m very much into the MP3 mindset. Having a 20GB Archos MP3 player wasn’t enough. I also bought an iRiver IFP-390T which is an MP3 player that supports line in recording. Here’s a recipe: Take one ultra-portable line-in recorder, one cable, and one soundboard, mix them together and you have the ultimate setup for swiping soundboard recordings. I’ve done this several times for a friend’s band and at some clubs to record some DJ mixes.
So I did it at the NMA show. I walked up to the sound board while no one was around (not a challenge), found the tape monitor port (this board seems to be the default board for live venues in Indianapolis), started the recording and returned to my table. After the show, I pulled out my cable, fired up my headphones and heard…nothing. I fast forwarded a few minutes. Still nothing. I fast forwarded 15 minutes. Nothing. I was rather dejected to say the least.
However, to my luck, I started hearing noises around minute 16 of my recording. I fast forwarded five minutes in and found that I got the full copy. I hadn’t realized that I started the recording a full 15 minutes before the show started and since the sound board wasn’t being used at this time, nothing was being sent out the outputs.
I know there are many other rabid NMA fans out there and the right thing to do is to make this recording available to them – for free.
So here are the files, free for the taking. I had to normalize and compress the recording because at several points the vocals got too loud and distorted. Running the compress has gotten rid of most of the distortion. This recording is, for the most part, a very good recording I hope you enjoy it.
The show took place on April 23, 2004. The recording is direct from the sound board into an iRiver IFP-390T ultra-portable MP3 player/recorder. As such, there is no uncompressed/wav version available. Here are the individual songs in one big .zip file. (83 MB)
Here is the whole show, in one big fat MP3 file (86 MB).