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Mike Noga’s new record King is a clever but haunting reminder of why you should never write off a concept album

Concept albums are always exciting, because you absolutely know the artist has put a huge amount of thought into their work, and it exposes their creative process in a unique way.

It’s nice to explore strong narratives and themes in this medium. Of course, they don’t work every time but no artist should ever be shunned for experimenting.

mike noga

With King, Mike Noga delivers an ambitious concept album that may drown you in inky blackness, but will ultimately rock your socks off.

The former drummer of The Drones, Mike Noga, has chosen this method for his latest album King. Partly based on 19th century play Woyzeck by George Buchner, the catalyst for this three-act record (and prologue) came in 2014 when Noga was living in London. Asked to pen music for theatrical production The Drowned Man, he became inspired to continue that work for what would eventually become King.

When he returned to Melbourne last year he enlisted the help of Paul Dempsey, frontman of Something For Kate and legendary solo artist in his own right, to add some outstanding production to a dark but lively rock n roll album.

You may also recognise the voice of Australian actor Noah Taylor, who appears here as a very sobering narrator, from hit shows Game of Thrones and Peaky Blinders.

King focuses on the disturbed lives of Jack and Mary in small town 1950’s Australia. The record does take some interesting turns at times, any moment a piano chord finds its way in, it does so in the most menacing way possible such as on the opener Mary, Mary – Reprise or I Wanna Live In America.

It’s these type of maniacal tracks that make you shift in your seat, worried about the frame of mind the characters are in as they struggle through madness and violence.

Coupled with Taylor’s unnerving narration and the unfailing ability of Noga and Dempsey to get the tone just right, there are certain corners of King that make it almost too dark, but it’s these moments that truly drive home the narrative of the album; Jack’s mental disintegration and Mary’s desolation.

There are songs that work just as well in isolation as well. Early on, Don’t Fall To The Ground and All My Friends Are Alcoholics are just great energetic indie-rock songs that Dempsey has been so adept at producing in the past, and Noga’s song writing is confident and assured.

Later, King delves into some ballad and country territory with Greys Into Reds and This Is For You (Coda). The latter especially sounds decidedly different to the rest of the album.

It’s like coming out of a tunnel on the train – everything about this track is lighter, the music and the vocal delivery, yet it still remains tinged with the after-effect of what has come before.

There is always the chance of concept albums becoming a bit wobbly. Will they be too complex and inaccessible? Will they fail to hold the required gravitas? Thankfully, neither of these concerns really appear on King, despite how intricate the story and instrumentation are.

Noga manages to thread the pieces together extremely well to form a clear, purposeful path. As Jack and Mary are coming apart at the seams, the songs themselves are knitting together perfectly.

The intersected narrations are tremendously effective in progressing the story while also catching listeners by surprise by how unsettling they are, a testament to Taylor’s talent.

One of the most interesting aspects of the album is that there is actually a cover included, Love Meets No Stranger, originally by Gaylen Adams. In a very clever move, it’s sliced in via a radio announcement, slotting easily into the overall narrative.

Ultimately, it feels like Mike Noga delivered everything he was aiming for with King, there’s barely anything to be faulted on this dense and interesting rock production. This type of innovation is something perhaps more artists should take heed of.

Without doubt, it joins the list of successful concept albums.

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September 6, 2016