WE REVIEW THE NEW ALBUM FROM THE RAGGED FLAGS – HOMECOMING
Homecoming is ‘not quite a concept album but as close as we’re going to get to one,’ says lead vocalist James Goodwin. The description is apt. Underlying themes are present but a central narrative is less clear. Regardless, the song’s protagonists share one desire – to find their way home.
Goodwin first met drummer Paul Whibley when they were ten-years-old. They formed The Ragged Flags along with Mark Aldworth and Chris Edwards-Dewey in 2012. Over a decade on, Homecoming feels like a creative peak. The band’s third album will be performed live in London shortly after release – a performance around which a genuine buzz can be felt.
The album itself, nearing almost an hour in runtime and split into three sections, is a complex one. Opening with ‘Part IV: Home Again’ may sound confusing but it is deliberate reference to the cyclical reality of relationships, one of the record’s most commonly dealt with topics. ‘Maybe it comes at the start of the album because the start of one cycle is really just the end of a previous one,’ the band state.
To this extent the album doesn’t have a defined start and end. However, the defined sections are discrete. The opening leg of the record pulls from folk music both instrumentally and narratively. ‘Cocaine Jane’ – a piece of folk rock nostalgia, features both a group-sung chorus and a character portrayal who ‘had what she wanted but threw it all away,’ who can be seen ‘running but going nowhere.’
The band do well to weave vignettes through this narratively dense record. Most of this comes from similarly sharp turns of phrase, such as the admission of holding someone ‘like my broken promises’ on ‘The Motions’. It’s breezily delivered and the guitars are so delicate they could snap under the song’s emotional weight.
The album’s second part is instrumentally similar to the first but the tear-jerking emotion is uplifted a notch. Guitars beatifically gallop over some of the project’s most esoteric lyrics – ‘we were all left behind by the future’ is not a lyric typical of a ballad of this kind.
And it’s more than the lyrics that are unexpected. ‘Told you So’ follows with a sudden shift towards something closer to folk punk – complete with biting guitars and a bass solo, presumably just for luck.
The band are adept in these shifts although vocally Goodwin does feel most at home during the ballads. The range covered is vast and he does well to keep pace, but when pushed, it’s clear he’s departed his comfort zone.
This is emphasised by each musical departure returning to something that clearly suits the band more comprehensively. ‘Oh Yeah’ is similar to ‘Cocaine Jane’ with backing vocalists joining Goodwin to sing a particularly sparse chorus. The choral blend is pleasing on the ears but as a chorus, it’s a weaker composition than songs like ‘Left Behind’ and ‘Blood Red Skies’ – the latter punctuated moodily with one of the album’s catchiest and most pugnacious riffs.
With certain songs being compositionally referential to others, the cyclical nature of these songwriting patterns is in keeping with the lyrical content. ‘After Tomorrow’ could be a reprise to ‘The Motions’, for example. Throughout the album the influence of Bright Eyes is evident, but ‘After Tomorrow’ I especially would be at home alongside songs like ‘Bowl of Oranges’ and ‘Laura Laurent’.
‘Part III: Someday I know’ is the big closer, complete with zealous vocals and an overall grand presentation. Goodwin puts his vocals through extremes and to his credit, the execution is as it should be. Despite the album theoretically having multiple beginnings and ends, it’s a polished note on which to close.
The Ragged Flags were bold in producing something that mercurial. By making the concepts loose and not necessarily linear, they enter an esoteric fold of lyrical oddities, accompanied by a sizeable musical scope. Not every song is impressive and some instrumental departures do wane. But for the majority of this sizeable and complex record, The Ragged Flags should be praised for taking on a record that few would be brave enough to create.