In an interview explaining the meaning behind the song ‘Sirens’ from his 2013 debut studio album, a then twenty-two-year-old Tom Odell enlightened us on how we can become switched-off and even immune to certain noises, despite each one potentially representing a cry for help. Five years on, with Odell again pouring every drop of emotional vulnerability into his latest effort Jubilee Road, my concern is that a similar immunity will develop towards the Chichester-born singer-songwriter’s music; wherein its all-too familiar sound sets the alarm bells ringing.
Odell has never been a figure comfortable with fame. Shortly after becoming the first male artist to win the BRITs Critics’ Choice Award in early 2013, he made his escape from the spotlight by relocating to America. It was in Los Angeles that his second album, Wrong Crowd, began to take shape: a wonderfully crafted indie pop record filled to the brim with beautifully accessible melodies.
“It unfolds like a collection of early ballads written by his younger self”
Yet it is from this upwards trajectory that Odell has decided to roll back the years and embark on his most personal, introspective album to date. Ten years in the making, it unfolds like a collection of ballads written by his younger self as he covertly observes life unfold from his living room window, with themes of heartbreak and loss more prominent than ever.
“Odell’s smooth but delicate vocal delivery inviting us warmly into his world”
Title track ‘Jubilee Road’ is a simple yet memorable piano ballad, with Odell’s smooth but delicate vocal delivery inviting us warmly into his world. Desperation builds as the song progresses and the chords are thumped with increasing passion: a highly promising opener.
‘If You Wanna Love Somebody’, with its whistling harmonies and straight drum beat, is pleasingly rhythmic. Odell is no stranger to a well-timed expletive and its re-appearance here was a nice touch, adding raw anger and emotion. Despite this, the gospel chorus comes across as tired and disimpassioned, leaving me feeling slightly underwhelmed.
“His uncharacteristically insipid lyrics get lost amongst the chaotic orchestral backdrop”
After a slow start, ‘Son of an Only Child’ bursts into a fun, bluesy chorus which at one point had me thinking we were diving into a rendition of John Travolta’s ‘Grease Lightning’. However, as the song progresses, his uncharacteristically insipid lyrics get lost amongst the chaotic orchestral backdrop as the song searches for some purpose and direction. This disjointedness is encapsulated by the line ‘I’m sick of singing about my broken heart’.
“Only the melancholic but pleasing intervention of a saxophonist can relieve the burgeoning pain in his voice”
Nevertheless, the album proceeds stubbornly into ‘You’re Going to Break My Heart Tonight’. One thing a Tom Odell song will never be is contrived, and indeed he lives and feels every second of this one: only the melancholic but pleasing intervention of a saxophonist can relieve the burgeoning pain in his voice as he potently explores fears of loss.
‘China Dolls’ is high-tempo and theatrical but remains too fretful to play host to the jubilant moments often commanded by Odell’s classical entourage. In contrast, ‘Queen of Diamonds’ and ‘Don’t Belong in Hollywood’ are both slow, almost monotonous ballads, with the strained vocals seemingly fixated on extracting emotion from a melody that really doesn’t warrant it.
“The race will be on for the Romcoms to get their hands on this one”
‘Half as Good as You’ on the other hand is one of the high points of the album, an effortlessly simple yet elegant duet featuring guest artist Alice Merton. With lyrics so simple and rhythmic, and melodies so honest and pure, the race will be on for the RomComs to get their hands on this one.
Odell unleashes a more positive, confident side rarely explored in his lyrics with the song ‘Go Tell Her Now’. Without exhibiting the unique flow of his very finest tunes, its more structured development rewards with an explosive, feel-good chorus, making it one of the handful of songs that really works.
Through the album’s various peaks and troughs, the overarching vulnerability in Odell’s voice is sustained right until the album’s modest closure with ‘Wedding Day’, in which he reasserts his status as a pure, emotive and heart-felt storyteller one last time, as if we didn’t know already.
It appears Odell was only too aware of the risk he took simply by playing it safe with this album, jokingly referring to himself as a ‘hopeless pop star’. Undeniably, his thematic tenacity defines his music, but all too often I get the sense that we’ve heard it all before. It’s got everything you’d expect from a Tom Odell album without ever really taking off, lacking a touch of the magic I know he is capable of. Ultimately, Tom’s latest effort fails to replicate the euphoric progressions of Long Way Down and the sheer orchestral volume of Wrong Crowd, and sadly sounds more like an assortment of B-sides from the two.
Jubilee Road out 26th November
Images courtesy of Tom Odell Official Facebook Page.