ADRIAN THRILLS: No wonder he’s so Keane on middle age
TOM CHAPLIN: Midpoint (BMG)
Verdict: Crisis? What midlife crisis?
VALERIE JUNE: Under Cover (Fantasy)
Verdict: Standards with a country-soul spin
NINA NESBITT: Älskar (Cooking Vinyl)
Verdict: Scandi-pop and ballads
Few bands have sung about the innocence of youth as persuasively as Keane did with their debut album, Hopes And Fears, in 2004.
The Sussex group framed their salad days brilliantly on tracks such as Somewhere Only We Know and Everybody’s Changing, launching a career that saw their first five LPs top the UK charts.
Capturing the mood swings of a bruised but unbowed forty-something is less glamorous, but that’s what Tom Chaplin is trying to do on his new solo album, Midpoint.
The singer, 43, found himself at a loose end when Keane’s Cause And Effect tour was halted by the pandemic, and he began writing songs summing up his feelings on the approach of middle age.
Capturing the mood swings of a bruised but unbowed forty-something is less glamorous, but that’s what Tom Chaplin is trying to do on his new solo album, Midpoint
‘There’s space for something nuanced that explores a part of life that everyone goes through,’ he explains, and he wears his heart on his sleeve here. There’s lots of confessional reflection from a man who’s been clean and sober for seven years after treatment for cocaine and alcohol addictions — but his enduring hopes ultimately trump any lingering fears.
He has plenty to feel good about, too. Having survived his ‘disastrous meltdown’, as he puts it, he now lives in Kent with his wife Natalie and their two children.
Earlier this year he showed his lighter side by appearing on ITV’s The Masked Singer . . . dressed as a seven-foot poodle. And his unmistakable, show-stopping voice is clearly still in fine fettle.
Midpoint was made with producer Ethan Johns, the multi-instrumentalist son of Beatles and Rolling Stones sound engineer Glyn Johns, and many of the 13 songs have an old-school, analogue feel.
Six years ago, on his first solo album The Wave, Chaplin shied away from the piano melodies that were a Keane hallmark, but there’s no such reticence this time.
On an album dominated by ballads, there’s a lot of tickling of the ivories, while producer Johns, who also plays guitar and drums, supplies light and shade by adding vintage electronic instruments such as the Chamberlin and the Mellotron.
Some songs have a subtle, jazzy edge; others look to the easygoing arrangements of Jackson Browne and James Taylor.
There are reflections on mortality. The title track, a guitar ballad that develops into a full-tilt rocker, finds Chaplin deploying his strident falsetto as he ponders the ‘quicksand in the hourglass’.
But he’s philosophical. ‘Sorrow and woe, they come and go,’ he muses on Rise And Fall. On Colourful Light, he’s ‘still daring to dream . . . that’s the trouble with me’. He pays tribute to his children and sings about his love for his wife, though the most revealing song is It’s Over, which seems to address his rewarding but enigmatic relationship with Keane bandmate Tim Rice-Oxley.
Long-term fans of the band will love the track’s tumbling melody and soaring chorus, but they might be concerned by the implications of the title. The group took a six-year sabbatical between 2013 and 2019. Could another lengthy break be on the cards?
With more than 55 minutes of music, and an emphasis on slower songs, there are moments where Midlife becomes becalmed. Some numbers will take a while to make their mark, but the album isn’t without its upbeat moments.
Black Hole is lyrically bleak — ‘big black hole, come take my soul’ — but its piano and brass band accompaniment is distinctly jolly. Much the same goes for Cameo, a jangling guitar rocker on which Chaplin outlines his determination to go out with a bang when his time comes. ‘My final role will not be a cameo,’ he sings.
For now, though, his midlife stock-taking has yielded a warm, engaging record that suggests his solo career still has plenty of road left to run.
Valerie June burnished her growing reputation with her rollicking set at last weekend’s All Points East festival in London.
Valerie June burnished her growing reputation with her rollicking set at last weekend’s All Points East festival in London (she is pictured on stage at the festival in Victoria Park on Friday)
Singing with a Dolly Parton-esque Tennessee twang, the American singer-songwriter fronted a tight rock ’n’ roll band with soulful aplomb. The 40-year-old traditionally sprinkles her live shows with cover versions — last weekend she sang Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World — and she’s taking that a step further with Under Cover, an eight-track mini-album on which she tackles classics by John Lennon, Nick Cave and others.
Those investigating her music for the first time would be better off starting with last year’s sublime The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers, but Under Cover is still a reliable guide to her freewheeling approach.
June, who plays guitar, banjo and ukulele, has earned the admiration of Bob Dylan, and she returns the compliment here with a lively country version of Dylan’s love song Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You. Some of her covers are too obvious — do we really need another version of Lennon’s Imagine? — but the more ambitious choices work a treat.
Rapper Frank Ocean’s breakup ballad Godspeed is treated with tender respect, and rockers Mazzy Star’s MTV anthem Fade Into You is given a sassy, southern spin.
Edinburgh singer Nina Nesbitt dips into her part-Swedish heritage on her third album, Älskar
Fresh from duetting with Chris Martin on Coldplay’s UK stadium tour, Edinburgh singer Nina Nesbitt dips into her part-Swedish heritage on her third album, Älskar. The title means ‘to love’ in Swedish, and Nesbitt began writing while visiting her grandmother in Scandinavia before the pandemic. She then finished the album on Zoom.
She’s at her best on the smart electro-pop of No Time (For My Life To Suck), pitched playfully between Taylor Swift and Sigrid, while the empowerment anthem Pressure Makes Diamonds includes a dig at celebrities who find fame on the back of family connections. ‘I’m not a rich girl,’ she sings. ‘My dad wasn’t famous in the ‘80s.’
Her ballads, more to the fore as Älskar progresses, are hit and miss. Dinner Table deftly details a conversation between three generations of women from the same family, but Colours Of You lapses into romantic cliché.
Nesbitt falls short of fully imposing her own musical style, but she’s a witty, inventive lyricist. One to watch.
Tom Chaplin starts a UK tour on October 6 in Leicester (ticketmaster.co.uk).
Nina Nesbitt starts a tour on November 13 at Stylus, Leeds (ticketmaster.co.uk).
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