There’s a lot of reasons to be apprehensive about a new Normandie album, something that might sound strange considering the profile the band have built for themselves off the back of their debut album Inguz. And yet, it’s that exact album that’s prevented Normandie from being a more likable proposition, taking the sleek, poppy wave US post-hardcore, mashing it with the equally overworked contingent of Britrock, and blowing up the bluster to immeasurable levels to further drown out whatever little edge remained. The melodies were prominent, as were Philip Strand’s colossal vocals, but the whole thing screamed of an album landing way past its prime; if it had been released in the early 2010s, it would almost certainly be viewed in a more favourable light. Coupled with lead singles that didn’t provide much more in the way of hope here, and initial expectations for White Flag were for more of the same that would ultimately see the Swedes struggle to break out further than they already have.
But credit where it’s due – this is definitely a more focused, fleshed-out endeavour from Normandie, certainly more than their debut was at least. But while this does feel like a stronger release, White Flag overall feels hesitant to move away from some of the less-favourable trappings that weighed Inguz down so much, namely how sanitised it can feel when it really doesn’t need to. Clearly those previous influences haven’t totally bee sidelined here, and on the windy alt-pop of The Bell that feels particularly anaemic, or the jerky synth strut of Keep Fucking It Up, the fine-tuning tips into outright overproduction. Granted, the general cushion of reverb all over the mix is noticeable all the way through, but when Normandie insist on building upon it even further, there are moments of toothlessness that aren’t becoming of them at all. Even more detrimental is that, with a lack of real character of colour, you get a series of songs that are superficially catchy, but bleed together without as much of a moment’s notice. This isn’t a very well-defined album as it is with a very straight-laced rock sound scrubbed clean of the majority of its edge, but sonic diversity isn’t even a thought here, and that can really hurt how appealing White Flag can be.
And make no mistake, there are moments of genuine promise on this album that see Normandie not only doubling down on their biggest strengths, but offering them that added backbone they undoubtedly needed. There’s a greater emphasis of spikier basslines and turning up the guitars on tracks like Ecstasy and Maniacs that feels necessary for a bit more bite without cutting back on the scope that’s clearly at the forefront of Normandie’s operations. This is still an arena-ready album at its core, and Strand is still more than capable of the soaring hooks necessary to push (Don’t) Need You and Fever to those greater heights. It’s all enough to ignore how unfortunately basic the lyrics can be at points (see Moth for the most obvious examples), and while that’s another factor that really works against them, Normandie play with enough sincerity and populist appeal that any real duds become lost in the bluster. It’s not an idea way to work, but for an album as reliant on its gimmick-free approach as this, it’s the sort of accidental plus point that shouldn’t be overlooked (mostly because it can’t afford to be).
It hardly makes for the greatest of recommendations, but White Flag isn’t the greatest of albums. It definitely makes better use of its excellent melodic bent more than its predecessor, but it’s still too much of a flat, overcooked listen to give any further praise to. Even with the improvements that have been made, Normandie still aren’t hitting the greatest of strides here, with the balance being in favour of big, studio-produced bombast instead of letting the instrumentation do that heavy lifting. They’re certainly getting there, that much can’t be denied, but they’ll need to work a bit faster if they want to keep up with rest of the modern rock pack.
For fans of: Hands Like Houses, Young Guns, Mallory Knox
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘White Flag’ by Normandie is released on 26th October on Easy Life Records.