New Model Army's ideologies have hardened over the years, and become unbreakable. Twenty-five years of fight will do that. But the band has inevitably matured over that time, too. 2000's tensely melodic Eight proved it, and 2005's Carnival continues the battle. Justin Sullivan's lyrics are still sharp-edged and poetic -- he's a passionate social critic, but will never shout from an ivory tower. In "BD 3" he listens and watches from his house as his town changes all around him; for the restless, listless youth smoking weed and listening to 2Pac, it's less a hometown than a holding pattern. The music is bass-heavy and anxious -- "Still the devil has all the best beats" -- rolling into a classic NMA chorus that's at once hopeful and full of spite. They do it again with "Red Earth," an overly dramatic but still powerful sketch of contemporary Africa. "Children walking barefoot in the golden dust/Machetes and AKs, perfect skin and Bible names" and angry guitar chords pierce the space over Michael Dean's roiling percussion. New Model Army were always adept at punctuating their point of view with raw amplification or a troubadour's singular fury. But with Carnival their songs are more literate and expansive without dispensing completely with punk-derived fervor or the sense of desperation in the edges of Sullivan's vocal. Sometimes he sounds like he's pleading through his anger or wonder, as if he worries that he's the only one seeing this. "Too Close to the Sun" builds to a feverish overture of acoustic guitar and swirling keys; "Prayer Flags" and "Bluebeat" rumble along in a meter suggestive of dub, pop, of carnivals themselves; and "Island" and "Fireworks Night" end the album with an epic sway that shifts and switches sonically under more righteous lyrics from Sullivan. "Most of all it was sealed in sacred moments like these/And then it was gone...." He speaks simply, but powerfully. Fans of Glen Hansard and the Frames will discover something to love in the cagey, veteran passion of New Model Army.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus