new music

Single review: Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’ & ‘Castle On The Hill’

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Is it just me? Am I just an old humbug? Or are Ed Sheeran’s two new singles really nothing special?

There. I said it. I am underwhelmed.

It’s not that Shape Of You isn’t sensual, poetic and catchy – it is. It’s not that Castle On The Hill isn’t a tender, uplifting piece of pop – it is. And it’s not as though either of those singles could do anything other than hit the apex of the charts in a heartbeat – they did.

But after two years of the incessently ubiquitous hits of X, surely it wasn’t too much to hope for something…fresh? Sheeran has always been a passing interest of mine, an artist to play when I need a sentimental or angst-ridden singalong. He owes me no particularly great debt of fandom, and yet I feel cheated.

If you’re not too outraged to keep reading, I’ll explain myself now, I swear.

Shape Of You was always going to steal the limelight. Flirty, sexy, catchy as all hell…on paper it works, out loud it sounds like a rework of Nina with a little bit of Don’t thrown in. Is this really all Sheeran has to offer? It’s a solid comeback, but it’s so. damn. safe. Also, TLC’s No Scrubs keeps popping into my head every time the pre chorus starts and that is just not a good thing.

Castle On The Hill offers a surprising change of pace – perhaps Sheeran’s attempt at a new flavour of songwriting? – but it sounds strangely anonymous after the textbook songwriting of the sister single. Although Sheeran delivers with satisfactory character, Castle On The Hill could belong to anybody. Most plausibly, in the introduction, U2 circa The Joshua Tree.

Are you still reading? Did you make it? Do you think I’m crazy?

It’s just…after the sweet nothings of +, 2014’s X offered grit and swagger and a maturing sound. While Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill are deserving chart-toppers amongst the swirl of radio favourites, they have ultimately failed to build on Sheeran’s ever-promising foundations. Did Thinking Out Loud leave such a big void that we will happily greet regurgitated inspiration with such enthusiasm? Evidently so.

But keep grooving, kids – there are worse songs you could get excited about. Having had my vent, I shall now banish my disappointment to the quietest murmurings and leave you be. (Bah. Humbug!)

Michael Buble: Nobody But Me (Deluxe Version)

michael-buble-nobody-but-me-2016-2480x2480Album: Nobody But Me (Deluxe Version)
Artist: Michael Buble
Label: Reprise Records
Released: October 21, 2016

RATING: 2.5/5 STARS

Michael Buble has been around long enough to hone his template to perfection; so while it is both comforting and disappointing to discover I could have written this review just as accurately without actually listening to his latest record, it is certainly not a surprise. Nobody But Me is yet another perfectly crafted album of knee-melting ballads, toe-tapping jazz, and pop tunes of the sweetest vanilla. Admittedly, there’s less of the latin influence I danced to incessantly when To Be Loved hit the shelves, and the brass blasts are fewer and smoother than those of its predecessor, but for the most part Nobody But Me is of the same mould.

There’s the uplifting but forgettable pop original (I Believe In You), the cheeky rock ‘n’ roll number (Nobody But Me), the guest cameo (Meghan Trainor, on Someday), the deliciously scathing revenge song (I Wanna Be Around), the no-brainer classic covers (My Baby Just Cares For Me, My Kind Of Girl), the classic cover that didn’t really work (God Only Knows…how much better this version could have been, were it not so slow and stilted) and thankfully, the gorgeous reimagining of a vintage sound (On An Evening In Roma). In between these certainties lie a few slower and/or ordinary numbers (The Very Thought Of You, Today Is Yesterday’s Tomorrow) that fill the gaps and carry us to the bonus tracks, if you’ve chosen the deluxe version for your purchase (not a terrible idea, as Take You Away is a fun little cha cha).

Consistency is usually reassuring, but this time around it’s made me restless to hear a little more daring from Buble. He must certainly be applauded for maintaining a fresh sound – and for offering new material alongside the classics – but Nobody But Me continues the trend of over-production in his more recent work. Gone is the rawness we heard in 2007’s I’m Your Man, and where is the innovation that created that extraordinary jazz cover of The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love?

While the radio stations will likely delight in the cutesy ukulele that accompanies Buble and Trainor in the safe ray of sunshine that is Someday, I’ll listen to On An Evening In Roma and dream of bygone days when Buble’s albums oozed with nuance and romance.

Friday wrap-up: Szymon, The Basics & At The Dakota

Szymon – Tigersapp

3.5/5 stars

It is a great shame that Tigersapp will always sit in the shadow of its creator’s death; a greater shame still that there will be no follow-up (or three). This collection of dreamy indie-pop electronica is as gentle as it is layered, as intricate as it is sensitive – gently unpolished and somewhat unfinished, but captivating all the same. Lovingly constructed from a plethora of beautiful timbres and finely intersecting rhythms, Tigersapp showcases a flourishing musical talent with burgeoning potential. The spine-tingling keyboard riff of Golden is a standout, as is the honey-toned saxophone solo on Polen; and while Szymon’s vocals aren’t as strong as his songwriting, they serve their dreamlike purpose well enough.

The Basics – The Age Of Entitlement

1.5/5 stars

Gotye et. al. return with an acerbic take on Australian politics that is biting, but ultimately empty. Thrashing around from pub rock to brooding ballad, to Afro-beat, the result is an unconvincing album of pastiche that fails to truly engage. The band succeed most in Time Poor, a ranty rock number that damns the Western world’s glorification of ‘busy’; Roundabout weirdly channels George Michael’s Faith but also works to get the album grooving. Given the prodigious talent of the musicians at work here, it it surprising that The Age Of Entitlement casts such a wide net yet fails to bring home the goods.

At The DakotaStories EP

2.5/5 stars

Maybe I’m still suffering withdrawals from the infectious summer pop of Hungry Kids Of Hungary, but the retro groove of opener Peach Hat had me hooked. As a general rule, Northern Territory musicians At The Dakota dish out upbeat indie groove-pop with guitar, bass, drums, and sweetly melodic piano lines. It quickly turns into something more gritty though, as fast-paced lyrics fire in all directions above the chilled guitar backing. It’s smile-inducing and warm, but to simply describe this EP as ‘sunny’ would be to miss the infinitely cooler soul/rock undercurrent that occasionally makes itself known.

Listen on Bandcamp.