Released: July 2014
“This city’s full of ashes” sings Noel, pronounced NO-EL as we are reliably informed on Lost in Love, the opening track on his first LP since working with his band The White Oaks. Despite the semi-apocalyptic chaos of his lyrics, the singer-songwriter from Birmingham (that’s in America, not the West Midlands) sounds very in control throughout the duration of I Won’t Answer. It’s a rebellious, seductive album whilst maintaining a meticulousness and maturity of the sophisticated rock star.
The album sounds like it was tailor-made for the early hours. Not unlike Arctic Monkeys’ AM, the record seems to span a timeframe that encompasses the period not long after midnight to 5 or 6 o’ clock when the great party-goers are all danced out. With its opening track and the follow up The Breath Oh Yes, Noel employs dark basslines and seductive female vocals to create a late night sound that evokes the feeling of wanting to carry on grooving despite the body’s best protestations. “You go from sex to stardust on your way to me” Noel almost accuses on the latter track as the singer finds his music somewhere between The xx and The Sopranos theme tune, the bass and drums pounding on amidst echoing vocals and piercing synths.
A definite highlight is the record’s title track, a stomping religious anthem of a song that features a grungy distorted bass guitar and a gripping Grohl-esque vocal performance from the singer himself, effectively accompanied by female vocals that retain the sexiness of previous tracks amongst the rebellion and aggression of the instrumentation.
The track’s theme of religion and Noel’s relationship with faith makes regular appearances throughout I Won’t Answer as an album. On some tracks the singer provides refreshing insights into the concept of religion, on others extreme distortion and feedback usage isn’t enough to update what are essentially traditional gospel songs. One particular track, Lord Look After Me, is a monotonous pile driver of a song that borders on parody as Noel asks God: “send me a sign” and “straighten my way”, probably a fully cathartic experience for the singer but a disappointing bum note as far as listeners are concerned.
If the beginning of the record is made for singing and dancing in the early hours then its latter half sees Noel’s sound progress into post-dance drunken wanderings, the final few tracks very much procuring images of a rising sun, of realisation, of the hedonism of the night transforming into the harsh reality of the day. In its final third I Won’t Answer boasts electronic lullabies for tired souls, the instrumental closer Tornado Weather serving an ambience that conveys both weariness and an awakening: the philosophical religion of the record finely intertwined with its knowing modernity.
This is a bold first solo effort from Noel, who shows he has plenty to offer in terms of both exciting anthems and intriguing spirituality. The constant Christian references almost amount to propaganda at times and this may jar with some listeners, but instrumentally I Won’t Answer cannot be faulted. Rousing and soothing at the same time, this collection of alluring serenades is a record undoubtedly suited for the nocturnal, a tribute to the night.