I bought the CD after seeing the show, and haven't stopped listening to it since. It is haunting, beautiful, and - more so than the previous 'Diversions' albums - very much in the Unthanks' tradition. They didn't release it until today because they wanted people to see the show with Richard Fenwick's accompanying film before hearing the songs. I was lucky enough to see the show, and it is true, the combination of film and songs is unsurpassable, But if the songs are all you have, they are well worth having in their own right.
The film charts the boom and decline of British shipbuilding, focusing on the Tyne, and the songs that accompany it are a combination of contemporaneous songs (including Elvis Costello's 'Shipbuilding') and a number from Jez Lowe, whom I hadn't heard of before but will be investigating on the strength of this, in particular the sinisterly jolly 'Monkey Dung Man' which charts the malign and lingering effects of the use of asbestos (and like so many blighted lives, ends all too soon).
Rudyard Kipling's poem 'Big Steamers' is transformed by an ethereal tune and Niopha Keegan's air of fierce naivete from a tritely jingoistic poem into a song that raises the hairs on your neck. The one slightly awkward note is struck by Adrian McNally's foray into Steve Reich-style minimalism with 'The Romantic Tees' (which interestingly, most of the sleeve notes are devoted to - it doesn't warrant it). The only other nit I would pick is that while the show opened with an upbeat, optimistic 'Taking on Men', on the CD we only get the sad reprise from the end, which seems a pity.
Those however are only the most minor details - this is an Unthanks album up there with their best - and that's very good indeed.
I was waiting for something special from the "Unthanks" and I think this is it. I was not engaged by their previous diversions offering, covers of Robert Wyatt etc. It was in the category of that you might have had to be there to appreciate the banter and pace of the music, which as a recording was just so far set back as to be in me Aunt Fanny's parlour plucking a hooky-mat. But this is impressive. It captures the sound of industry in the river side communities (Tyne and Tees). The standout by far is "The Romantic Tees" an oxymoron turned into a love poem and a track that borrows heavily and rightly from the soundtrack of a film about the Tyne "Launch". A gem of a wee film by the way. I only have it on crap VHS but it still hits the memory recall like a sledgehammer. "Shipbuilding", the most well known song on this is different from Mr Costello/Wyatt versions people may be familiar with. It fits like a mitten! "Song from the Shipyards" is a great homage to a lost era. Highly recommended.
I wasn't going to review this one as i couldn't do better than Sarah288's excellent review, but seeing a fellow reviewer do a surprisingly unkind character (musical) assassination on Adrian McNally i felt the need to defend him. I don't know Adrian or have any connection with him, so this isn't personal, but although his piano playing on the album might be classed as simple/sparse it really suits the songs and is (to my ears) delightful. Also, although i prefer the Robert Wyatt version of "Shipbuilding" Adrian's singing on the track is very good and combined with The Unthanks on the chorus makes the song very listenable.
The Unthanks were playing, I think, on Clive Anderson's Radio 4 Extra show about a year ago to promote this record (I'd just been given a digital radio as a present…), and they came across really well so I decided to buy it.
It's a very personal album with a firm sense of time and place, but I found it entirely easy to relate to. Their cover of Shipbuilding feels slightly out-of-place among the other compositions (not that it's badly-done… I'm just not sure it belongs on this album), which are immediately charming, and gain power and poignancy on subsequent listens.