New Model Army is yet another group to whom my friend Tim introduced me, but as opposed to the group who last appeared in this list, this meeting was more immediately successful. He put one of their tracks, “51st state”, on a mixed tape he made for me and its angry folk-punk and intelligent but subversive messaging appealed to my teenaged sensibilities. Then, seeing my interest piqued, he loaned me a CD copy of their 1992 singles compilation, “History”. From there, I was completely sold on the songwriting of Justin Sullivan and the dark and angry workings of his bandmates.
Indeed, it was almost as if it were all part of Tim’s ‘evil’ plotting because in the early part of the summer of 1993, the group was touring North America, complete with a stop in Toronto, and yours truly was a ready-made concert buddy. Nevertheless, it was to be my first ever concert* and to say I was excited was an understatement. I purchased a copy of their latest CD, “The love of hopeless causes”, in preparation and it quickly fell into heavy rotation.
“Bad old world” is the final track on that album, a real rocker to close things off, but what really makes the song notable is the lyrics and the way Sullivan sings them with such conviction. I’ve read that it was written as a sort of sequel to “Green and grey”, one of my favourite tunes off the band’s 1989 album “Thunder and consolation”. And I’m willing to bet that there’s something to this theory and it’s not just because New Model Army played the two songs back to back at that show back in 1993. It’s like the missing piece of the original song we didn’t know we needed but now that we’ve heard it, both songs are just more perfect.
“Green and grey” addresses a missing friend or brother, someone who left the protagonist behind to continue the fight alone. He sings of the brightness and optimism of youth and how nothing has changed where they grew up and there’s a sense of a feeling of betrayal and a lack of understanding for the departure. All this comes out in the form of a letter for which no reply was expected but yet “Bad old world” is that reply, nonetheless.
“Dear Justin, I know it’s been a long time
Remember all those nights we spent sitting up talking in your front room
About leaving this worn out world and starting again far away in a better place
Well that’s where I am now – but still thinking about you”
Where “Green and grey” is as wistful as its fiddle and as bitter as its foreshadowing storm, “Bad old world” is nostalgic in its delivery but also full of hope. The correspondent admits that he got out, leaving the bad old world behind, but he bears no shame and in fact, wants to share this sense of peace with his friend.
“I used to think it was me who’d somehow sold out
Or given in on some almighty cause,
But what difference would it make? It feels good to be out here.”
It truly is a wonderful counterpoint, a comparison of two lives that started at the same point but were then lived very differently.
*This is a story I’ve already regaled as part of my post on their 1990 track, “Vagabonds”, when it appeared at #9 on my best tunes list for that year.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.