Review Summary: Wonderful, clever, charming, gentle...
Previously a five piece for their first album, Passenger is now made up of one Mike Rosenberg. All the Little Lights is the fifth album to be released under the Passenger moniker, following a full band first album (Wicked Man's Rest), two entirely self-funded acoustic albums (Wide Eyes Blind Love, and Divers and Submarines) and a collaborations album (Flight of the Crow) which featured a wide array of exclusively Australian artists such as Josh Pyke, Kate Miller-Heidke, Matt Corby and Lior. All the Little Lights is Mike's third 'solo' record, however it plays with a full band feel, more like the electronic-tinged Wicked Man's Rest and the well rounded Flight of the Crow than his stripped back solo albums. This is due to the consistent presence of Boy and Bear drummer Tim Hart, jazz bassist Cameron Undy, and Katie Noonan and the Captains' keyboardist Stu Hunter.
That's not to say that fans of his first two solo albums will be disappointed - numbers like 'Circles', 'Feather on the Clyde' and the title track at times can remind one of 'Caravan' or 'Fairytales and Firesides' - the smooth tenor of Mike's voice against an acoustic guitar and very little else. On the other hand, there are the more upbeat 'Staring at the Stars' and 'Keep On Walking' (the former with a banjo for a good measure), the stomp and clap of 'Holes' and the instant-click 'Let Her Go' (the first single for radio play) are more indicative of the record's sound. Every track will lead you in with flowing instrumentation and the ever present acoustic guitar, which Mike strums away firmly or fingerpicks softly to suit the occasion.
But probably the highlight of All the Little Lights are both Mike's voice and his lyrics. On Flight of the Crow they stood firmly in the serious, lacking his usual cynical humour and his ability to pen the clever but heartfelt. More often than not Mike's lyrics will tell a story; it can be the dark side of growing up ('Staring at the Stars'), fond childhood memories ('Circles'), the storytelling of love and loss ('Holes'), or life lessons ('Life's for the Living', 'Things That Stop Your Dreaming'). Most notable are the final resignation of 'Feather on the Clyde' or the one big metaphor of the title track, which can only be explained with examples:
"One went out in a bus stop in Edinburgh, one went out in an English park. One went out in a nightclub when I was 15, the little lights in my heart".
"One went out when Uncle Ben got his tumor, we used to fish but I fish no more. Though we will not return I know one still burns, on a fishing boat on the New Jersey shore".
"We're born with millions of little lights shining in the dark, and they show us the way. One lights up every time we feel love in our heart, one dies when it moves away".
There are just too many great examples from the album to demonstrate Mike's renowned lyrical ability, though lines like "My liver may be f_cked, but my heart is honest" and "Well we've got holes in our hearts, we've got holes in our lives, we've got holes but we carry on" may demonstrate the theme of the album.
Mike Rosenberg funded his first two solo albums entirely by busking across the UK, US, and Australia, and is now using busking as a promotion form along with an impressive back catalogue. When given All the Little Lights, we are shown an artist who has found a comfortable sound in the singer-songwriter business, and we can only hope he can achieve the success to match it.