New Skin is a curious name for this album, the follow up to Bitter Lullabies which arguably ‘broke’ the band over time and propelled them towards Glastonbury and greater national renown. Curious because in many ways it’s very similar to its predecessor, at least in terms of its tone and variety. That’s no bad thing when the aformentioned Bitter Lullabies was such a fine record but it does somewhat beg the question; where do they go next? Putting that to one side for now, what does New Skin sound like?
The opening two songs, ‘New Skin’ and ‘Ellie’ are both quiet and sedate, traditional folk songs though Ellie does boast a nice stoccato violin in the background that has greater impact as the song progresses, giving it a sense of purpose and (almost) menace. Track three ‘Prolong’ maintains the mood and on first listen I was slightly concerned that the album was going to be very one-paced. It’s a beautiful song punctuated by lovely harmonies and Jenny Nendick’s gorgeous cello but I wonder if it might have suited better a place towards the end of the record.
‘Peace’ has a different feel to it, the beginning slightly reminiscent of ‘Please Forgive Me My Human Ways’ from the previous album. It then develops into a lush Kate Bush-esque maze of a song which rewards anew with each additional listen. ‘Diminutive Man’ shakes things up with a brash opening and Bridie finally opens her lungs as we know she can. By now all concerns about lack of variety are banished. The song has a bluesy feel to it; a real foot stomper.
Comparisons to the previous album may be unfair but when ‘We Talked Again’ appears on both perhaps I can be forgiven! This version is propelled by cello rather than bells and the dramatic change in feeling justifies its inclusion on two long players. It was my favourite song on Bitter Lullabies so its a testament to how good this new version is that I still love it.
Perhaps the album’s two standout tracks follow; ‘The Sandgate Dandling Song’ and ‘Scarecrow’. The first is a traditional Geordie folksong, laced with fantastic harmonies worthy of The Unthanks. Scarecrow was the album’s lead single but this a different version, with slight changes to the piano that have the effect of ‘jazzing’ it up; quite apt I think for the song in question that recalls a rather bloody wedding tale. At this point it’s worth doffing a cap to Producer, Mick Ross who has done a fine job of caring for these often delicate songs whilst also allowing the personality of the performers to shine through.
The album closes as it began with things slowed down a little as a mournful and at times desperate sounding ‘Crying Beast’ gives way to the beautiful ‘One Winter Evening’ where Bridie’s vocal is possibly at its strongest.
I’ve listened to New Skin a lot these past few weeks and it has certainly improved with time. It’s a worthy successor to Bitter Lullabies but in some ways quite similar. I love both records but I eagerly anticipate the next installment and hope for a few more surprises next time around.
Reviewer: Russell Poad
Have listen for yourself – stream the album for free