Last month saw the release of ‘If This Is The End’ by UK group Project Blackbird – and it’s one that I’ve listened to many a time before forming this review. For this album really isn’t one to flip on and rock out to, just like Blackbirds as spirit animals represent knowledge and intelligence, so the group brings an album of conscious thought and deep conversation starters.
Exploring themes of human experience – aging, love, loss, injustice and mental wellbeing, to Politics and Protest. ‘If This Is The End’, encapsulates the myriad of bubbling emotions in 2020 and looks at new beginnings/rebirth, against a backdrop of reggae, ska, rhythmic blues, electronica and melodic rock music – which in itself sounds like a mishmash but is actually a transition that goes unnoticed.
The title track is where the rebirth begins, as Ming’s hypnotic voice seems to travel through time and space, reaching the dark tunnels of your mind – bringing you to light. Focusing on mental wellbeing the lines “I feel your heart begin to sing…” repeat like a mantra for new beginnings with kudos to Alan Roberts whos guitar sung like that of David Gilmour’s.
The theme of birth/rebirth continues in the spoken word piece ‘Baby Giant’ which was inspired by the artist Leonora Carrington and her painting ‘The Giantess’. As the song begins you get a sense of being in a womb hearing muffled speech and once outside the words uttered all connect to women. It’s a song of liberation and political movement, another theme which you’ll find throughout the album.
Both ‘Murmuration’ and ‘The Archivist’ hold great sentiment between the lines and are personal favourites of mine. With the album being dedicated in memory of Cathy Roberts and Richard Read – it seemed only too fitting that both Alan and Jon shone through with their musical centerpieces.
Another album favourite takes shape in the dark, T Bone Burnett/Shakespeares Sister-esque ‘The Handle of the Spade’. Looking at the impact of being surrounded by lies and manipulation and feeling like you have to bury your former self to get away – perhaps another political statement, as is ‘Letter No. 5’, which like a circulated letter, warns of the impact on society as a result of lockdown. ‘I name my mind and throw it treats, hoping it will become tractable’, depicts society which are at war within themselves as a result of being institutionalized within their homes and dependent on the Government panel setting them free.
One of the strongest and rawest political statements I found on the album is song ‘Shake The Trees’ which acknowledges the BLM movement of 2020. With haunting touches on the killing of George Floyd and police harassment, here band member Jon Read reunites with Specials vocalist Lynval Golding, who is no stranger to protest songs if you remember ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and more importantly ‘Why’.
There is so much to this album that for me to continue would result in a literary essay of thoughts, you really have to listen to the album in its entirety and the messages within to appreciate all its offering and to see what a great effect 2020 had on musicians and their creativeness.
Finally though I’ve only mentioned band members Ming Nagel (vocals), Jon Read (keys, trumpet, horn) and Alan Roberts (guitar) in the above, if it wasn’t for other member Jamie Varley (bass) and the array of special guest appearances, this whole album would not have had the same effect and just as much praise is owed to them for bringing about this great album of 2021.
If This Is The End by Project Blackbird is available to stream across digital platforms or purchase via Bandcamp