‘For the first time’ is perhaps less an album to be enjoyed as a cerebral puzzle to be tackled. The record opens with the bewildering ‘Instrumental’ in European klezmer style (as all great albums do) bubbling to a sax-charged climax before crashing abruptly into ‘Athen’s, France’. Isaac Wood is a commanding narrator, and at times he’s almost funny: “Dancing to Jerskin I got down on my knees / I told you I loved you in front of black midi”, he rattles on the brazenly meta ‘Track X’. Indeed, the whole group are incredibly proficient in their respective roles. Lewis Evans’ sax slathers ‘Sunglasses’ in shrill catharsis, ‘Science Fair’ owes a lot to Luke Mark’s jolts of electric guitar. But, at times, the outfit as a whole feel less than the sum of their parts. They’re certainly not incapable - violinist Georgia Ellery’s side hustle is in the wickedly experimental duo Jockstrap, while drummer Charlie Wayne formerly brought up the rear in the far more charming Ugly. But, like that one kid at school who would remind the teacher the homework was due, Black Country, New Road’s seriousness and determined intellectualism is sometimes to their detriment. Not even an upbeat tempo can quite save closer ‘Opus’ from feeling pretentious rather than merely smart. Sometimes just too impenetrable, ‘For the first time’ can leave you wishing BC, NR would do away with the veneer of stoicism and give their obvious talents the freedom and ease to shine.
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