Review Summary: We'll rise over love, over hate, through this iron sky that's fast becoming our minds, over fear...into freedom.
Sometimes I wonder what I seek from music, I forget, how even pop music can be art. When it connects, how it reflects and disseminates emotions, explains values, expresses what cannot be expressed, reveals what cannot be revealed. Right now, to me, this album is one of the great heartbreak albums. It meditates on what love is, what loss is, how to pick up the pieces of your life, what is important in life. But I suppose it depends on whether you're bothered by an artist wearing his influences on his sleeve to the degree that Paolo Nutini does. I'm not particularly - for me it's more about what you do with those influences. You can stir in as many ingredients as you want, it's what you serve up that matters, the added twist that only you can bring, it's the 'you' that you throw in after all the other bits have been chopped and diced. What is served up on this album is classic after stone cold classic, songs that sound like they've been locked away in a Motown vault for the last fifty years, only for someone to discover them, dust them down and press 'play'.
A palimpsest of soul and funk, you can entertain yourself by playing musical bingo, ticking off each name on your card as you listen: Marvin Gaye, Prince, Terence Trent D'Arby, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, The Drifters - so this is not what you'll want to listen to if you're looking for originality or innovation. Instead you'll find the range and sway of the different voices begin to jar as they compete for ascendancy and asseveration, each song slapping and sliding against each other. But if you look over and above these variegated voices and styles you'll read a narrative spine that coalesces the whole, an intensity and a depth that lifts this album above and beyond previous efforts, only the reggae lite lilt of Numpty
recalling the fun and melody of fan favourites such as Pencil Full of Lead
. Instead heartache and pain pours out of each snort of trumpet, each crump of trombone.
When I first heard the lead single Scream (Funk Your Life Up)
I heard "a girl so fine I want to scream halleluhah, she F*CKS my life up". Which for me is right, it's this dichotomy between 'funked up' and 'f*cked up' that is posited throughout the album. Or if you like, between joy and pain. Love and loss. Desire and despair. The one is a portal for the other. You can only be in pain now if you have experienced something worthy of causing pain. So if your heart is broken, well that's too bad - but wasn't it a beautiful thing that broke it, to cause this much hurt, and shouldn't that beauty be celebrated as well, not just mourned, while it lasts and in retrospect? So the through-line spins away from mere heartache, to spell out a personal credo concerned more with general themes such as freedom, spirituality and affirmation. It's a scope of ambition that succeeds in behemoth ballads such as Let Me Down Easy
, One Day
and Better Man
, less so in the hackneyed Fashion
, a creaky collaboration with Janelle Monae, but often genuinely moving such as when contextualised in the sample of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator
"Machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men and you have the power to make this life free and beautiful!"