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I've been an admirer of singer-songwriter, Newton Faulkner's music since the release of his excellent first album, Handbuilt by Robots and that admiration grew exponentially after hearing his second one, Rebuilt by Humans. On first listen, this third album, however, didn't exactly grab me in quite the same way as the previous two. That isn't to say it's bad; it just doesn't demonstrate much in the way of musical development.
I guess the best way to describe Newton Faulkner's music is that it's folk/pop valium by which I mean that his sound, though definitely on the folk spectrum, isn't remotely edgy nor does it deliver any kind of deep message. It's simply well written, pleasant sounding, life affirming music. As there are only ten rather short songs on the album, I make no apology for critiquing each one.
The album starts well with the up-tempo and catchy Pulling Teeth. With an acoustic sounding backing and an insistent rhythm, there's nothing at all controversial here. The song's gentle, and if I'm honest, fairly cliché lyrics deliver an optimistic message and Newton's slightly husky and very distinctive voice demonstrates his upper range though with a couple of quite jarring falsetto notes.
The second track is Soon which offers another hopeful song promising that everything the listener wants in life is just around the corner. Once again, the backing is largely confined to acoustic guitar and percussion, at least to begin with but the sound builds ever stronger as the song progresses. The first song on the album had quite a Sixties sound to it and this song, too, has similar elements. Newton has created a rather joyous sound and as the song builds towards what seems to be a final crescendo, the backing suddenly cuts out completely leaving just the glory of his sustained final note with single piano chords marking the counterpoint and moves the song from being just another jolly ditty into something quite special.
The first time I listened to Brick by Brick I thought there was something wrong with my CD player. The guitar picking is so staccato that it sounds almost as though the microphone is intermittently cutting out. It may be regarded as an innovative sound technique by record engineers and though it certainly makes a distinctive sound, personally I didn't find it a particularly pleasing one as it just detracted from the voice.
The tempo slows and the mood becomes more introspective for Clouds. This is a pleasant song but with a fairly woolly message about not looking down at the ground but looking up at the clouds and being yourself. I guess it's the sort of song which would appeal to someone going through teenage angst but as my teenage years are well behind me, I couldn't find anything to recommend it.
The slightly syncopated rhythm of the intro to Pick up your Broken Heart fades into one of the sweetest songs on the album. It's about something we've all experienced; the end of a relationship. The message as with all Newton Faulkner's songs is very optimistic: You may have a broken heart but get over it and move on.
Long Shot is one of the standout songs on the album. The backing is very muted in tone allowing the voice to dominate. The song eschews the usual feel good factor and instead has a rather downbeat and melancholic message about wasted lives though the lyrics are rather garbled.
'Given time we could've seen
All the things he could've been
If he'd tried.
But he settled for the English dream
Bathed in mediocrity
Stood in line'
The title track sees the return of the cheerful, chirpy chappy persona. Each verse of Write It On Your Skin begins in a softly folksy style interspersed by loud, poppy choruses. The refrain is catchy albeit fairly monotonous and as I've found with so many songs on this album, it's also pretty unmemorable.
In the Morning is a strange song and very unlike Newton Faulkner's usual fare. It's slow, almost dirge-like in some respects. Apart from the usual musical accompaniment, this track uses something which sounds like a musical saw, though it probably has a different name, and there are occasions during the song when Newton's voice replicates the sound, soaring from a low register up into the stratosphere. Dirge like it may be but it's also different and the only track which could remotely be described as innovative.
Against the Grain is classic Newton Faulkner; gentle yet uplifting though there's rather too much falsetto on the track for my liking.
The album ends with Sugar in the Snow which is possibly my favourite song on the album. It puts me in mind of If This Is It from his Rebuilt By Humans album as it has the same trademark life-affirming quality offering hope for a golden future. It's a fitting end to the album.
I bought this album because most reviews I'd read claimed it was Newton Faulkner's best to date. I'm afraid I rather disagree. Some music is so emotive that it immediately soaks into your soul. The songs on this album are merely the kind that wash over you like a warm and gently swelling wave but otherwise leave you totally unmoved or at least that's what they did to me. Out of the ten songs on offer, there are at best only three which I would call memorable. All of the songs on the album are pleasant but I guess that could be regarded as damning with faint praise.
I do feel that Newton Faulkner is capable of writing more innovative songs than these, as most of them were rather predictable both in terms of music and lyrics. I also felt rather short changed by the length of the album. Most of the songs only last just over 3 minutes with a total listening time of around 36 minutes. If the album had cost me more than the £5 I paid for it, I'd have been quite miffed. As it is, I'm sure this will be an auto buy for many of Newton Faulkner's hardcore fans but it's made me less likely to buy his next offering. I'll write it on my skin if you like, Newton, but the only word I'll write is 'disappointing'.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Pulling Teeth
3 Brick By Brick
5 Pick Up Your Broken Heart
7 Write It On Your Skin
8 In The Morning
9 Against The Grain
10 Sugar In The Snow