Review Summary: Poignancy from improbable places, at least sometimes.
Hailing from Southport, Queensland, Jacob Lee is a little known Australian singer-songwriter of fairly dubious origins.
The instant an artist has any association with the vapid, detestable pop/R&B conveyor belts The X-Factor or The Voice, a justifiably earned wariness towards said artist is likely to follow. We’ve all seen it all
before, try as we might to ignore it; the soppy, pity-inducing sob story in an attempt to earn audience sympathy, or perhaps the cocky 16 year old “revolution” who’s going to bring something “new” to the table and wow the world… before proceeding to completely butcher Amy Winehouse’s ‘Valerie’. Or maybe it’s a dancing dog. Honestly, who the f**k cares, and it is with very
cautious steps forward that our very own Jacob Lee originates from this cesspool of insipid “industry experts”, eliminated before making it to the big leagues and left to fend for himself.
Now, maybe I’m being a little
harsh towards those that participate in televised talent shows – just look at Lindsey Stirling as a fittingly positive example – but it is
where some of Lee’s best material stems that highlighting the above only seems appropriate. Indeed, while the preceding elimination through to eventual independent success via Ed Sheeran-esque single ‘Chariot’ and debut 2016 EP Sine Qua Non
generally treads a mainstream R&B direction, it isn’t until 2017 debut album release Philosophy
that Lee fully begins to deliver something more personal. Founding his own record label to produce and distribute the record, Philosophy
stands as Lee’s most individual body of work (at time of release), and it all starts with ‘Demons’. And, with very little exaggeration, ‘Demons’ is stunning
Opening with a beckoning, dreamlike melody before leading into minimalist guitar and percussion, ‘Demons’ quickly climbs to impeccably gorgeous heights. While the sombre contemplations ”lost underneath - deep in my structure, I feel a rupture from where she should be”
state plenty, it’s through Lee’s slamming delivery of ”I thought my demons were almost defeated, but you took their side – and you pulled them to freedom”
that the track fully takes form. Generally staying within the boundaries of pop-rock, with the bridge exploding into a simple yet effective guitar solo while surrounded by swelling synthesisers, ‘Demons’ opens Philosophy
with exactly the punch it needed to discard memories of old.
And, speaking of memories of old, remembering these is exactly where ‘Black Sheep’ speaks volumes; thematically spitting back in the faces of naysayers and disbelievers, ‘Black Sheep’s relatively straightforward R&B instrumentation sits comfortably alongside Lee’s frustrations with an industry that feels astray. Indeed, it’s the agitatedly penned ”they’re telling me I’ll never make it on my own – let the industry decide my tomorrow”
and ”I used to watch the sheep as they wait for a leader”
that showcases a deliberate professional departure from the “conveyor belt” of before. But, while that is fantastic and all, it is to be said that Lee does
still stray back into territory he’d be far better off leaving behind, and this is where the weakest of Philosophy
comes to light.
Now sure, the sweet and cuddly acoustic ballads ‘With You’ and ‘I Belong To You’ will no doubt make their way onto more than a few wedding playlists somewhere down the line, but what truly makes the best of Philosophy
shine is obvious, and far more akin to your Ben Howard’s and Elena Tonra’s of the world; raw, honest self-reflection. It’s the brooding, bitter musings on failed expectations-verses-reality that offers Jacob Lee his most tangible ammunition lyrically, with ‘Oceans’ relatively tame introductory declaration of learning to ”let go when (I) was younger”
quickly giving way to an infinitely more potent frustration that seethes glaringly; ”maybe I should open the drawer – burn the pages, write poems with the ash on the floor.”
Elsewhere, ‘Cursed’ boasts a fantastically vivid perspective of schizophrenia, again proving a deeper layer within Lee’s songwriting, however the similarities to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Dive’ may just be a little too on the nose, instrumentally at least.
Unfortunately, despite some slight glimmers of light down the line, this is where much of the best of Philosophy
regrettably ends; ‘Suitcase’ (featuring Annalisa Fernandez) attempts to compel through lyrically detailing an estranged relationship, but mostly comes and goes with little memorability, while the arguably fun ‘Nevermind’ ends up being little more than a Pharrell Williams/Daft Punk-esque clone. It’s well delivered vocally, as is much of the album on Lee’s part, but lacks any real consequence compared to better material.
And, ultimately, lacking any “real consequence” seems to have been the destined conclusion for much of Philosophy
. While the likes of ‘Demons’ and ‘Oceans’ truly strive to deliver something infinitely more substantial, displaying a compelling performance that vastly outshines most on the record, it’s the tame trepidations of stepping outside the likes of ‘With You’ or ‘I Still Know You’ that seemingly reach for little more than low hanging fruit, letting things regrettably down. By all rights, these aren’t awful songs, but seem far too preoccupied with playing things safe as opposed to offering anything… more
. There’s undoubtedly more to find within Jacob Lee’s future writing, plainly outlined through the thematic direction of ‘Cursed’, and at the very least certainly proves there to be poignancy from improbable places when considering career beginnings, but where other better records delve deeper Philosophy
remains far too shallow.