NSRO's first album was pretty much my favourite album of 2006; it was a real gem, something of genuine beauty. So my expectations were very high for the follow up. I wasn't disappointed... and yet, I can't quite bring myself to give it five stars. If you've heard the first album, you'll know what to expect - an unusual mixture of chamber music and folk - and this album builds on that. The choir in particular sounds more accomplished this time around. But therein lies the rub - it only serves to divide the album more clearly into two parts, and it feels at times like Craig Fortnum couldn't quite decide whether he wanted to go for folk (some songs are surprisingly similar to those of Fortnum's previous band The Shrubbies, with touches of Kate Bush circa 1980) or chamber music, so the result, while a really good listen, doesn't feel quite as "special" as the first album. I'd still recommend it though...
...it's just not as good as their debut. There are 3 or 4 tracks on Birds where the hooks stick in the memory, but on their self-titled debut many more tracks are truly memorable and at times, positively spine tingling.
It's undoubtedly well played and orchestrated, but lacks the sparkle and passion of the first album. At times it sounds too darn clever for it's own good and whilst technically excellent, it leaves me feeling rather short changed.
There are too many Glass-esque repetive pieces in here without the sparkle and wit that for example "Kingstanding" demonstrated on "NSRO". Repetitive hooks are fine if they offer something, too much of Birds offers too little.
If you've perhaps heard "End of Chimes", "Kingstanding", "Every Day Hath its Night" or "He gives his Beloved certain Rhymes" on the first and are tempted to buy Birds first, my advice would be don't, get the debut album first. I fear if you bought Birds first you'd dismiss the debut and in doing so you'd be missing out on something truly magical & special.
The debut set the bar very high indeed, seems on this occasion NSRO have come up a bit short. I sincerely hope they can rediscover that missing sparkle.
Birds is the second album and the standard has not dropped. It is hard to classify. I have heard their music described as 'chamber pop' and 'very English' both of which fit. Classical instruments are used with a virtuoso skill, but if you are not a classical buff, don't let that put you off. I find some clasical music rather cold: this isn't. It is wistful, soaring and emotive with a very spiritual quality. Sharon Fortnum's vocals have a wonderful clear and pure quality. Check out their website: last time I looked, there was a facility to play sample tracks. I saw them recently playing in a church in Westminster. It sent shivers down my spine.
I first heard North Sea Radio Orchestra on a live session on 6Music's Freak Zone where they proved you really could make the theme from "Ivor the Engine" sound sinister, and "Uncle Fleedle" sound sublime. I bought this album on the strength of their performance and I have not been disappointed. Beautiful singing, marvellous arrangements, like nothing else I've heard. I plan to buy their other album soon, but just think , without 6Music I'd never have had my soul enriched by NSRO, and they would be down a few sales.