23 November 2014

Ben Howard - I Forget Where We Were

It may seem like we are dipping into the mainstream a little bit, but if people ask I will always (when available) do what is requested.  A few days ago I was asked to see what I thought of the second album from Island artist - Ben Howard.  Now apart from what I have heard when I have seen the TV adverts for this album, I really have no really idea what Ben Howard is about.  I remember that his last album 'Every Kingdom' was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2012 (before this blog even existed) and he has won two Brit awards in 2013 on the back of the record.  From what I remember of that album it was pleasant if nothing that I would step out of my way to listen to, this probably explains why I have not looked at this album before now.  Anyway, it is an album released on 2014; it is also once again something new, let’s see what the result is....

Starting the album is "Small Things" that is not what I was expecting from an artist that is going to be heading out for an arena tour of the UK in April 2015.  The music reminds me of a mixture of Gotye and Little Comets, this is an atmospheric opening which has some interesting guitar work and slow bass mixed in with strings and gentle drums.  It is an impressive opening which immediately perks up my curiosity with a subtle blend of emotion and passion.  The next song is "Rivers In Your Mouth" which have a faster pace compared to "Small Things", the story of someone who does not know when to keep their mouth shut is a number that feels like a song that would have done extremely well in the early nineties in the hands of artist like Sting or Peter Gabriel.  Much like War On Drugs, it is a reaction to the pop-saturated music scene that has been manipulated by the likes of X Factor/American Idols with cookie cuts stars of the future and their multi-produced tales of doom.  Whilst it might not be as interesting as the opening number, it still has enough about it to be interesting. After this we have the title track of the album, "I Forget Where We Were" - this is the only track off the album to have been released as a single so far at the time of the review.  It is a slow burning tune which has a mature sound that will have his fans in raptor; it is very enjoyable but a little safe in place.  I am not expecting chainsaws of doom, growls from the depths of hell or techno break beats for the players - but the more I listened to the song, the more I was reminded of Dire Straits.

"In Dreams" is a guitar heavy song, but not heavy as in metal; no it has a finger plucking style and with Mr Howard's alternative guitar tuning, it feeling like a song from a new-wave cowboy film which is shot in black & white.  Once again as impressed as I am with the music, I am not getting that excitement that you get with songs that hit the spot.  Maybe it is because the song does not really get out of second gear, it keeps the same tune running through and as well as it is played, it could have done with a bit of a shift at some point other then the chorus.  "She Treats Me Well" is another number which does not gel for me; it sounds like it could have been a folk cover of a Paul Young number.  It drifts by without leaving much impression on the listener and even when it is finished you would struggle to remember much about it.  "Time To Dance" is a better tune; once again it does not really deviate from the opening riff that rolls over the listener like a spring sun.  There is one section in the middle where it almost feels like it is going to drop into a reverb jam out, but then that folk/country plucking comes back and we are back in the safe waters where the world feels safe and warm.  That said, it is still a decent tune once again; just slightly predictable.

"Evergreen" is the first track on this album which I can honestly say that has touched me on an emotional level.  Something in this song and the lonesome tone of the tune is haunting, the songs use of lyrical enigmas referencing Christmas, evergreens and a mother's curse make this a riddle which will have people be trying to figure out for years to come.  How this track works whilst a lot of this album struggles is a mystery to me.  "End Of The Affair" is another cheery number.... no, it is not cheery, it is the polar opposite of cheery and it is another moment that shines on this album; at one point I thought I was going to have to say how it does not variant to much from the opening section of the tune - then the middle section of the song happened.  The first part of the song is very easy on the ear and it show how good a musician and what a good team Mr Howard has around him, after the bridge comes a middle section that is interesting with a great solo and passion.  The song does go on a little bit too long, but it does at least change the mood of the album slightly - but it does make for a depressing listen.  Penultimate song "Conrad" once again has a very pleasant tune, but without any of the excitement or passion that came with "Evergreen" or "End Of The Affair".  I cannot fault the quality of the playing or Mr Howard's vocal ability or lyrical content; it is just not my cup of tea.  Final track "All Is Now Harmed" is another decent song that does not do anything wrong or sound awful, however it does nothing exciting either.  Again, if there had have been a big crescendo to the album, it would have been out of place with the rest of the album.  But whilst it well played once again, it just doesn't make me excited as "Evergreen".  A passionate number that misses my heart by a country mile.

If I was cold and clinical about this album, I could be very harsh.  If I was a crowd follower, I could praise it to high heaven and wax lyrical about the man.  But instead I will be honest; this is a very well played album which has a few numbers that make for interesting (if not essential) listening.  You have an artist that is very comfortable and competent in his abilities and sound.  However, you also have an album that does not reach the highs that could have been touched.  It is not a poor album, not even close to anything like that.  It is just an album that does not have an exciting section or should be played to anyone who looks at the gloomy side of life.  I do not quite see what all the fuss is about, but then again I do not hate it either.  It is just a strange and gloomy record that somehow is riding high in the charts.  Still better than Sleepwave though.....

6 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there

Top track - Evergreen

You can purchase the album on Amazon here

You can visit the Ben Howard website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you

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