Review Summary: Those expecting the male version of Back To Black will be disappointed. This is simply a good soul-pop debut that showcases potential.
It is an under-statement to suggest that fads do exist within the realms of popular music. One man who has almost single-handedly had success in beginning a fad of late is English producer Mark Ronson. Most literally, the genre could be titled soul-pop (or pop-soul if you like) and Ronson has had a hand in producing critically acclaimed albums which fall under this banner for the past 3 years now. In 2006, it was Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’. One year later, Ronson took artistic credit on ‘Version’, while in 2008 he unleashed Adele on to the masses with her debut ’19’.
In 2009, Ronson turns his attention to a male vocalist; Melbourne-born, but London-based crooner Daniel Merriweather. It seemed that the choice was rather obvious and natural, since Merriweather had performed vocal duties on ‘Stop Me’ (a cover of The Smiths’ 1987 hit ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’), the lead single from ‘Version’. Merriweather’s retro soulful voice fits exactly what Ronson would have been after and with the likes of James Morrison, Jamie Lidell and even Robbie Williams sliding into obscurity of late, the timing was perfect to strike.
And for the most part, Merriweather’s debut ‘Love & War’ strikes well. This is especially the case with its first half, which contains two UK Top 10 hits. Lead single ‘Change’ is a humdinger, with its hooky piano loop and Ronson’s trademark horns ably assisting the vocal contribution from (fellow Ronson signee) Washington DC rapper Wale, whose alternate verses surprisingly work a treat in combination with Merriweather’s distinctively differing voice. So much so in fact, that it is a mystery why its hip-hop leanings are not explored further elsewhere. Later, 2nd single ‘Red’ sees the Australian at his most controlled and emotional, especially during the orchestral chorus where his volume-raised pleas sound genuinely heartfelt.
Ronson is no dummy and he has a talented knack for knowing when to mix things up. This is apparent from the get-go as the distorted soft-rock guitars of opener ‘For Your Money’ leads into the groovy dancier vibe of 3rd single ‘Impossible. The problem here however, is that you can tell when he is shuffling the deck just for the sake of variety. That is definitely a forgivable trap that younger artists (Merriweather is 27) are prone to fall into on their debut and it really tells as ‘Love & War’ progresses. A few songs drag on into overlength, while many come off as inoffensive background music that your parents will enjoy. Part of the problem is the recurring lyrical theme of relationship break-ups, which over half the tracks could be classified as!
There is one exception to the latter half mediocrity fortunately, even if it is yet another break-up song. That comes in the form of track 10 ‘Water and a Flame’, where Merriweather raises his game and is perfectly accompanied by label-mate Adele. In a sense, it sums up the singer well, since he is well and truly at his best when paired with another vocalist. In addition to the two highlight tracks here, he also excels on (Aussie rapper) Phrase’s ‘Chains’. Of course, there are also lowlights contained on this album… ‘Live By Night’ is simply boring, while the unashamed thievery of The Mamas and The Papas ‘California Dreamin’’ during the chorus of ‘Could You’ is far too disconcerting to dismiss.
So when all is said and done, Daniel Merriweather’s ‘Love & War’ is a typically inconsistent debut LP. It has the impressive hit singles, the bland lowlights, and everything in between that will act as barometers for individual listeners. There is clearly talent here, since Merriweather’s voice sizzles at its best, and there are occasional flashes of clever & talented songwriting interspersed throughout the album’s 12 tracks. However, those expecting the male version of ‘Back To Black’ will be disappointed. Just take ‘Love & War’ for what it is; A good debut that showcases potential.
Recommended Tracks: Change, Water and a Flame & Red.