The loss of a frontman after releasing a Mercury nominated debut and critically acclaimed sophomore album would be a difficult blow for any act. For Black Country, New Road, whose distinctive identity was very much accountable to the haunting and troubled lyrics of frontman Isaac Wood, it was assumed by many to be the end. Throughout the year since his departure was announced, fans have eagerly pieced together live videos and speculated on the group’s plan going forward in a desperate desire for proof otherwise.
Their prayers were answered in the middle of February with the release of a concert film ‘Live at Bush Hall’, a captivating and stunningly shot project created using clips from their three night residency at Bush Hall at the end of 2022. Today, the film has been released as a live album, and tracks previously patched together live videos and muffled recordings can be heard in their full beauty. The band adorn ornate costumes, playfully toying with an audience of enthralled fans, fully displaying how much fun they are having as a group who the outside world have dismissed as collapsing into inner turmoil.
The tracks themselves are an astounding display of the array of talent found across the group. Songs such as ‘The Boy’ and ‘Turbines / Pigs’ enable vocalist May Kershaw to demonstrate her haunting, Bjork-esque voice. The former is a playful, story based track that embodies the teasing way in which BCNR walk the line between humour and tragedy in their song-writing. The latter, ‘Turbines / Pigs’ is by far the strongest on the album, aching with sadness, playing with unusual imagery and building to a cathartic crescendo, echoing many of the best aspects of the band’s previous works.
All the band’s members shine on the album, with Lewis and Tyler leading tracks and the rest using the shows as an opportunity to have fun with the process of performing. Crucially however, the fans are just as essential to the experience as the band, with the film frequently cutting to clips of them and many contributing to the recording process. There is a feeling of mutual appreciation in the project, as if the album was made as much as a thank you to the loyalty of the fans as for the band’s own pleasure.
The release of a live album is a brilliant move from an act still in a state of transition but followed by so much expectation and speculation. Without the commitment and potential critical harshness of a studio album, it is a rallying cry that BCNR are still here and have plenty left to say. The album serves as a time capsule of a band in a state of rapid change, toying with different concepts, sounds and genres, but undeniably great at what they’re doing. Where they go from here is uncertain, but the album makes sure we know they will continue to make characteristically playful, haunting and brilliant music wherever they end up.
‘Live at Bush Hall’ is available to listen to and Pre Order on 12″ Vinyl here.
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