Tom Odell Long Way Down(Columbia) Buy it from Insound
Morrissey proclaimed over two decades ago that, “We hate it when our friends become successful”, but being British as he is, he should’ve known that it’s in the British national psyche to hate it when practically anyone becomes successful. Any triumph is invariably met with the notion that the progenitor needs to be taken down a peg or two. We derive such pleasure from schadenfreude it’s a miracle we don’t have our own word for it. Only in Britain could the term ‘do-gooder’ be twisted into an insult.
Thus, Tom Odell was always going to need a strong spine to withstand what came his way. As well as coming to prominence at a relatively young age, he’s received celebrity patronage in the form of Lily Allen, won the BRITs Critics’ Choice Award, is privately educated and – let’s not beat around the bush here – is very much a stranger to a beating with the ugly stick. A posh, young, famously-endorsed, award-winning, flaxen-haired sun-child – what’s not to like?
All this might make you want to not give Long Way Down a fair crack of the whip but – and certain UK music publications may want to take note at this point – it’s a decent record and to pretend otherwise would be to relinquish integrity and deliberately court controversy. Style-wise, we’re not on any new ground here – it’s pretty standard, piano-based singer-songwriter fare – but Odell displays such a prodigious gift for melody and musical phrasing that it consistently elevates Long Way Down to a level above similar records.
The whole exercise is expertly pitched. Odell’s voice quivers with just the right intensity and it’s a strong and assured record. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard a thousand times before, but Odell’s deftness and skill transform it. Take recent single and album standout Can’t Pretend: a dark, gothic melodrama with some beautifully judged chord changes. As the track progresses, it begins to swirl around itself with slightly spooky backing vocals which help it build from gentle lament to full-blown hoolie.
It’s a pattern that Odell is keen to repeat and test the limits of. Tracks will often begin thoughtful and composed (on Sense, you can hear the individual clicking of the piano keys) before building to a rumbling chorus, a cracking of the voice and an outpouring of emotion. The assured choruses often rescue otherwise non-descript songs, as if the songs have been purposely created with large venues in mind. On Hold Me, this formula apes the Arcade Fire sound so closely, from the Win Butler vocal inflections to the let’s-try-and-emphasise-all-four-beats-of-the-bar percussive attack, that it’s eerie. However, Odell often falls prey to the Arcade Fire trap; that is, assuming that the harder you bash your instruments, the more that conveys passion, intensity and, ergo, quality.
A slightly sagging latter half is ameliorated by Supposed To Be, the most atypical song on the album. Unlike the rest of Long Way Down, Supposed To Be has a slight swing about it, and the vocal restraint in tandem with the hint of regret in the lyrics (“She’s got a new boyfriend / A little too soon, if you’re asking me”) make it the most affecting piece on display here. As tactics go, it’s much more nuanced and effective than simply hammering the same piano chord over and over.
Long Way Down is more than enough evidence to suggest there’s something really rather special about Tom Odell. His ability to create melodies you feel you’ve always known is exceptional, even if he’s often content to simply play it safe. There’s a big, exciting world of music out there, and it’s a shame that Odell seems so reluctant to venture outside the postcode where he feels comfortable. For Long Way Down is an album that, while often samey and, in the grand scheme of things, says next to nothing, heralds the arrival of a highly talented artist. Now we just need to find some fatal flaw in the Odell armoury so we can all act smug and faintly superior.27 June, 2013 - 20:51 — Joe Rivers