Solid New Album from one of the Best Bar Show Bands in Canada:
NQ Arbuckle’s The Future Happens Anyway
by Chad Pelley
“The tiger on the album cover is death,” says frontman Neville Quinlan. “Death is coming for everyone.” It’s a fitting cover image for a band whose songs ask us to look that tiger dead in the eyes.
Lyrically, Quinlan’s songs advocate that life is both short and precious, so why not do precisely what we want with our short time here. How’s that for rock and roll? Or Alt-country rather, not that this album can be bound up in a label. With straight-up jams like “Hospital” and “Death,” this album is their rockiest yet.
“Death” by NQ Arbuckle
NQ Arbuckle is the kind of band fans can quote favourite lines from, because they’re an everyman’s band, as illustrated by a line in the second track, “Red wine, you must be so bored of our problems?” The guys play almost exclusively bar shows, because it’s the truest way to hear music, especially in NQ Arbuckle’s case: pubs and parties are the setting for so many of their songs.
Since he was a kid, Quinlan has simply felt they’re the only venue to play: a loud, small room, where everyone’s lost in a song together, moving as one, shouting the words at each other, and the man’s the man for sing-along songs: the verses in these new songs romp and holler with the band’s signature, gruff-voiced swagger, guiding us into catchy, sing-along choruses that’ll stay in your head long after you’ve turned the album off. One standout is “Hot Shot” about a woman who’s “all that I fear, and everything I’m after.” And shouldn’t every new lover hit us like a wrecking ball?
“Hot Shot” by NQ Arbuckle
The band sounds thicker and richer than ever, thanks to the addition of a fifth instrument (a pianist). Every bit of space in every song is packed full, and lyrically, as always, the lines are delivered so well they reach that human part of us that relates to the song for having been there ourselves, in the heat of the song’s sentiment.
Excluding a collaboration with Carolyn Mark (that gave the world the gift of a song called “Officer Down”), it’s been almost five years since their last album, a fact perhaps addressed in the opening track’s title, “Bring Me Back to Earth.” Speaking of Carolyn Mark, one of the album’s gems is dedicated to her. It’s a track about the touring life, called “Life Boat,” full of lines like “picking up the band from broken homes, like picking up the drinks from backyard parties,” and “writing postcards on the wheel.” The album’s second track, “Red Wine,” also speaks to a musician’s travelling life, including a shout out to drinking in pubs in St. John’s.
One of the album’s quieter tracks, “Art O’leary,” is one of its best. As he’s often done, Quinlan adapted a poem into song. This time it’s a poem from the point of view of a wife longing for her murdered husband. There’s also a Vic Chesnutt cover on the album, “Panic Pure.”
“Art O’Leary” by NQ Arbuckle”
Like John K. Samson, Neville Quinlan has a reputation for being a Canadian songwriter whose lyrics are part of the package. He’s certainly the only man who could make a line like “I’m so crazy for you, I’d burn your house down” sound romantic, and he follows through again on this album with his lyrical prowess. Take the simple line in the opening song, “I never thought that I’d need you until I was cooking you breakfast.” A simple, says-it-all line like that adds emotional punch to a song, and certainly more of a connection to a song than merely catchy music could muster.
He’s an everyman poet the way Tom Waits is, but substitutes the metaphor for striking simplicity and clarity. He’s said, “The first line in every song is supposed to be a bit of a call to arms.” Delivered in his gruff voice, he certainly lives up to that. The heartfelt simplicity of his previous hits like “I Liked You Right from the Start” carry through here, on standout tracks like “I Wish That My Sadness Would Make You Change.” It’s a piano-and-drum driven ballad. The song builds to a wonderful outro with some guests chanting the song title over and over. (Emm Gryner, Luke Doucet, and Mellissa McClelland are among the album’s guests.)