The April 2008 of British music magazine Word says of Amsterdam’s sophomore effort Arm in Arm, “Amsterdam make big, emotional stuff: these are songs that hug you, offer you a pint and put you in a cab home.” I wish I had written that line. The review ends by exclaiming, “Bold, honest and tuneful, a trip to Amsterdam comes highly recommended.”
I will second that recommendation. Even though it will have stiff competition just in the weeks ahead (see below), I expect this will be my album of the year. While websurfing, I stumbled upon the Amsterdam website many years ago. After one listen to the pop sheen of one of its posted songs, “Takin’ on the World,” Amsterdam was at the top of my radar, and I slowly started to file them in my “all-time” favorite band lists with groups such as The Jam, R.E.M. (new album April 1), Astrid, Counting Crows (new album March 25), James (new album April 7), and The Connells. Soon after my introduction to Amsterdam, I flew to London in December 2005 for a quick vacation to see them perform at the legendary Borderline club. As I eagerly look forward to the weeks ahead of anticipated releases, Amsterdam begins my escape from my occasionally self-imposed indie confines.
In an incredibly insightful interview posted to Jade’s Blog, a blog by the music columnist for the Liverpool Echo, Amsterdam frontman Ian Prowse remarks of the new album and his band’s place in the musical landscape:
I’m not competing with The Wombats. Our record won’t appeal to the NME, but Uncut and Mojo give us great reviews. It’s Radio 2, not Radio 1. But the main thing I’ve realised is I’m not trying to be clever anymore. It’s about the big things in life now, the things that really mean something. I don’t want to write about throwaway things. It’s reflected in the sort of music I listen to now. Unless it’s really going to reach out and touch me I don’t want to hear it.
I still listen to plenty of music that’s admittedly a bit of a throwaway lyrically, or at least doesn’t truly “reach out and touch me.” In fact, I appreciate the throwaway, fun stuff. My comparison between Vampire Weekend and Sordid Humor was a bit due to each band’s lyrical slights of hand, specifically in working names of places into their lyrics.
Amsterdam is most famous for its own song about a place, it’s adopted hometown of Liverpool. “Does This Train Stop on Merseyside” from its debut album The Journey was hugely praised by the late, great British DJ John Peel and the band was hired to travel to Instanbul and perform for fans attending the Liverpool FC-AC Milan Champion’s League final. Featuring moving lyrics and a soaring melody, the song captures Liverpool’s sad slave trade past, its rich musical history, and bright future–“See the slave ships sailing into port/the blood of Africa is on every wall/Now there’s a ley line runs down Matthew Street/it’s given energy to all it meet.” The emotional honesty of that song and its ambitious aims are at the heart of the band’s new album, Arm in Arm.
Pop hooks remain throughout and there are a few straightforward pop tunes, such as the furtive ditty of lovers gone, “The Lament.” Prowse and his bandmates can write a hook it seems with minimal effort and this album is more melodic and hookier than its predecessor, despite being less an effort to write 3 minute pop songs. Arm in Arm is more expansive. sonically superior, and often genre-defying. The album opens with a strong Celtic influence (“Home,” “Hey Hilary,” “Arm in Arm,” “Nothing’s Goin’ Right”), transitions toward some folk and soul (“Lonely Boy,” “Rosie,” “Hatred is Wasted”), and ends with some more straightforward pop/rock tunes (the aforementioned “The Lament” and a wonderful reworking of “Feel’s like Growing Up”). As Prowse comments:
If someone said to me Amsterdam are a folk rock band I’d have to kill them. It implies the worst of both genres. I don’t like rock at the best of times, and as far as the finger in the ear folk brigade go, well… if I ever catch anyone in Amsterdam putting their finger in their ear they’re sacked. It’s just pop music. If people call the album folk rock expect violence.
I agree wholeheartedly, but this is pop music with a wide sweep, stylistically and lyrically. “Nothing’s Goin’ Right” features the spoken word poetry of legendary Irish folk singer Christy Moore. To say it’s a haunting song, would be an understatement. “Arm in Arm” is an emotional and pointed song of Prowse’s somewhat public breakup with former bandmate Genevieve Mort, after a 10-year releationship. As a Sunday Mail (gossip?) columnist wrote of the song, “He’s preparing for a bitter blast from his ex-girlfriend caused by his group’s brilliant new album, Arm In Arm. Ian wrote the title track after being dumped by girlfriend, Genevieve and it’s the most scathing love song I’ve heard in years.”
I’m hesitant to post a track for now, especially because I wouldn’t know the one to pick. The best place to listen to extended clips of each song is UK digital distributor 7digital’s site for the album here. For now, the album is only available in the UK, so venture over to the band’s website and follow a link to purchase.