Most likely, the first song ever written had something to do with love. Perhaps it was penned by a Cro-Magnon besotted with some lady or triceratops. These days, it's just what songs are about: love of man, woman, God, baseball, RC Cola, or humping. Following in this fine tradition, Noah & the Whale's first two albums contained nothing but love songs. The British indie-folk outfit's first disc, 2008's Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, evoked the excitement of a new relationship, riding exuberant choruses and sunshiny melodies. The following year's The First Days of Spring followed the resultant downward trajectory, delivering crushingly beautiful depictions of love on the rocks. However, on the London act's new album, the cheerfully titled Last Night on Earth, leader Charlie Fink looks outward instead of inward, writing about shopworn characters who have more than just their hearts to worry about. Failure lays over these songs, as Fink picks apart miserable lives full of rundown cars, drunken brawls, and faded nightclubs. The results recall Leonard Cohen's poetic take on "beautiful losers," except that Fink wraps his hangdog vocals in bright gospel harmonies, playful violin riffs, and winsome guitar hooks à la Tom Petty. In the end, listening to Last Night on Earth is like biting into a chocolate-covered cyanide pill delicious at first, but dark and deadly at the core.
Noah & the Whale perform with Bahamas
May 26-27, 8 p.m., 2011