James Arthur has a lot to answer for. Chris Martin has a lot to answer for. Rag ‘N’ Bone Man has a lot to answer for. Unlikely shaggy haired pop star Lewis Capaldi is currently ubiquitous on our airwaves, he’s on more often than Nigel Farage’s odious toad-like features are paraded across the BBC. Yet his music is painful, the sound of someone shouting in the vague direction of a tune. The nightmare conclusion of soporific lad balladry that was ushered in by Ed Sheeran and continued by other very white, very male major label singer songwriters who have had their hearts smashed to pieces whilst out drinking buckfast of a Friday night.
But that doesn’t quite explain his humungous popularity, you see the 22-year old Scot is a ‘character,’. He tries to be funny on social media, remember the time he photobombed the Brits? No? Oh how we laughed. He is also self deprecating about fame so he’s the ‘relatable’ everyman and that’s appealing to some, he’s sacked the social media manager off and by doing it himself he’s given himself an even bigger fanbase than other carefully managed stars. But a bit like Adele, I have the sneaking suspicion that people buy into his funnies as much for, if not more than, the music. Maybe that’s where music is heading even more so in the era of social media and streaming? Sure, Capaldi sings everything with loads of gusto over modest pianos and guitars, and has some kind of talent for this kind of drivel, but it’s relentlessly gruesome white boy mope pop charged with excruciating over singing.
In fact 90% of the time his voice is way too LOUD and he SINGS EVERYTHING LIKE THIS, like Dom Joly’s mobile phone man who was always shouting, there’s a severe lack of nuance here. So much so that you wonder how someone could put up with this fella rasping in your ear for forty minutes. What about the album title, come on pal!?? It’s ridiculous you know it is? The 1975 had cornered the market in slightly silly pretentious titles, and then along comes Mister Capaldi. It’s mired in an ironic self deprecation that suggests he is his own worst enemy.
Opener ‘Grace‘ is a portent for the ear bashing to come, clipping beats “I’m not ready to be just another of your mistakes‘ he sings with a painful roar that Lion-O would be proud of, then unfurling a post-Mumfords chorus with rocket boosters. The question that immediately hits you around the chops is where has his Scottish accent gone? For a lad who uses Instagram and Twitter for the ‘mischief’ of a comedian doing a turn at Edinburgh this summer, his ‘sub Atlantic by way of London’ gravelly drawl is drearily grey, shorn of any of his personality.
‘Divinely..’ is remarkably consistent in its mood, it’s all downtempo, and musically it’s like a fella repeatedly hammering away at a sheet of metal with all the subtlety of a Donald Trump tweet. Originally released in 2017 and garnering millions of streams to this point, ‘Bruises‘ starts off intimately with a pleasant enough piano and lonely vocal motif, before Capaldi unleashes those big pipes again, but far from soulful this tale of heartbreak sounds frayed around the edges, and well a bit worn out.
‘Hollywood‘ is atypical Capaldi, piano motif nicked from ‘Parachutes‘ as he belts out the biggest load of claptrap you’ve ever clapped ears on with a rasp so painful, that you hope he doesn’t need medical attention. Given the hackneyed lyrics, I would wager the closest he’s ever been to Hollywood so far, was a visit to Glasgow Odeon for a recent screening of Marvel Endgame. The most successful of his cuts is previous hit ‘Somebody to Love‘; the introduction of slight falsetto to the mix lightens the sound, while there are shades of George Ezra about his lower register vocals here, but quickly it tires as he circles the piano notes like water down a plug hole, and then explodes into another shouting fit over the uncertainty of being let down. The imploring lyrics (“I let my guard down and you pulled the rug”) do show a genuine vulnerability and while it’s undoubtedly really heartfelt, it sounds highly contrived too. I presume this is how he thinks he should sing to prove he really MEANS it man – you wonder if Capaldi would actually produce better work if he learned more about vocal and songwriting dynamics, why not tease us then unleash those pipes? Sometimes less is more. There’s are moments during ‘One‘ when he lowers his voice from high pitch roar for a bar or two when you think maybe he could shift gears. Or the stark vocals and guitars of ‘Headspace‘. But when he sings “Everything I touch turns to stone” on ‘Maybe‘ with his voice turned up to the usual 11, one wonders if he can see the irony.
There is nothing I can write on this page that will affect Capaldi’s ascent, you see he’s critic proof, some would ask whether negative reviews are even relevant in the age of social media where listeners can hear for themselves on Spotify and artists can have a direct relationship with their audience, the likes of me won’t spur him on to do better artistically, when he’s doing very well commercially thank you very much. But given Capaldi seems like a canny lad, it’s quite remarkable how unremittingly dull his music is. Carrying his over emoting voice like a big stick, to the point where it’s often unlistenable and at others unintentionally funny. This album would have been rightly flushed away into bargain bins in previous decades. But in the streaming era of 2019, it’s a smash hit of the year. I’m off to rest my ears.
Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent is out now on Virgin EMI.