After 10 years drumming with The Drones and two well received solo albums (Folk Songs, The Balladeer Hunter) King is Mike Noga’s third studio album. Loosely based on the German dramatist Georg Büchner’s unfinished 1837 stage play, Woyzeck, it’s an ambitious concept album, in which Noga reimagines the protagonists to be Jack and Mary, ‘a down and out couple living in 1950’s Australia’, rather than Büchner’s provincial German town.
Using a technique often applied in film, Noga opens with ‘Nobody Leads Me to Flames’ dropping us straight into the most climactic scene, and then returning us to the start where he introduces the characters and the plot (namely Jack’s descent into madness.) Punctuated with narration by iconic Australian actor Noah Taylor, these interludes evoke the soundscapes and dark undercurrents of contemporary Australian films like Beautiful Kate and Lantana. Indeed the whole album seems to be waiting for just such a film to procure it as a sound track.
If this all sounds too much like high art to be fun, rest assured, King is ultimately a rock and roll album. Despite the strong narrative thread, every song is more than capable of standing on its own.
Produced by Paul Dempsey of Something for Kate (who Noga credits as an equal collaborator on the album), King is a highly polished affair. Noga channels the frenetic energy of a waking nightmare, but he never leaves us without the balm of beautifully rendered melodies (‘Don’t Fall to the Ground’), tracks that make you want to dance (‘The Deceiver’), and pub sing along classics (‘All My Friends Are Alcoholics’).
In an increasingly homogenous world, an artist like Mike Noga remains outside of stifling musical trends and is clearly willing to take creative risks. In the hands of a lesser artist, an album like King may not have worked, but happily for Noga, it has been immensely well received. Earlier this year he signed to Cooking Vinyl records and toured Europe with much loved Minnesota band, Low. With the release of King this August, Noga has finally stepped out from under the iconic shadow of The Drones and into his own spot light, where for my money he now stands as one of Australian music’s most exciting performers.