Review Summary: A solid effort from a promising young talent.
John Newman is a new artist to the scene who has already racked up some incredible success- a number one single with the Rudimentals in “Feel the Love” which assured plenty of hype that resulted in his debut “Tribute” becoming a number one album in the UK. Very impressive credentials for this young lad, and he’s ready to take over the other side of the pond with his now-hit single Love Me Again garnering plenty of radio time and slowly burning up the charts. Just how does Tribute measure up anyways?
John Newman obviously wants to be the male, dancier version of Adele or Amy Winehouse, bringing in a 60s inspired soul sound to his effortlessly catchy pop hooks. Tribute is a very upbeat and catchy pop album filtered through the sounds of soul, with the cherub-faced Newman providing husky and divisive vocals for maximum emotion. I say divisive because the vocals have a definitive love it or hate it quality to them… it’s unconventional and familiar at the same time. For Tribute, the vocals’ more raw quality have been polished to a shiny effect, but I have heard plenty of people thrown off by the vocals in a live setting.
The production work on Tribute is outstanding. The self-titled opening track opens rather interestingly… Newman’s various influences and favorites artists are listed off one by one quickly as orchestral strings slowly swell in the background for dramatic effect. Pianos and strings are prominent throughout the album, and they sound like they were actually recorded live and not synthesized… refreshing to hear I must say in this day and age. Most of the songs are upbeat, fun, and very danceable without sounding fluffy or empty-headed like most of today’s pop music. The lyrical content doesn’t stray too far from heartbreak, heartbreak, and more heartbreak, but it’s delivered with flair. There’s plenty of substance on this album, and an obvious love for all of Newman’s influences comes through on the tracks.
The anthemic single Love Me Again gives you a really good indicator of what Tribute offers. Let it be known that Tribute is a very consistent album, perhaps a little too consistent as there’s very little variation or experimentation. What you do get is lots of passionate energy and soulful vocals that are sure to get you moving if you love to dance. When the album does break the mold, it’s with mixed results- “Gold Dust” is one of the finest numbers here, a dramatic and slow building tune about heartbreak that quickly moves to euphoric strings, while the closer “All I Need Is You” is such a lame and limp way to end the album, it’s choir of voices repeating the title not really doing much to bring the tune to life. Elsewhere, high energy numbers like "Cheating" and the 70s disco-ish sounding "Try" are guaranteed to get your hips shaking.
If you dig on high energy pop, catchy numbers, and a soul-inspired sound coupled with lots of songs about having your heart broken, Tribute is the album for you. If you’re looking for something different and experimental, or can’t stand poppy sounding albums, my recommendation would be to avoid. Tribute is a solid album from a promising young talent, however it doesn’t take any chances and relies on a formula that results in too many similarities amongst its songs. But, when you have a winning formula, it’s good to concentrate on the strengths to bring out the best songs possible, and on Tribute Newman hits more than he misses for the most part, delivering what he promises. Here's hoping the next one around adds a little more edge and grit, as he has it in him.