After four years, Jack Garratt returns with his difficult second album ,‘Love, Death & Dancing’, and an urge to rebuild a career left in tatters by crippling self-doubt following his underwhelming chart performance back in 2016.
Garratt was somewhat unfairly labelled as a flop after his heavily-promoted debut album ‘Phase’ only sold 60,000 copies upon release in February 2016 – only 60,000 – and he was seen by many to be the latest in a long line of music industry casualties. The album produced no hits, received fair-to-middling reviews and was all but forgotten by the next month.
See, he was massively unfortunate to have released his debut album in early 2016, especially seeing as the world was reckoning with new albums by The 1975, Coldplay and Adele, and recovering from the death of David Bowie. All that major label money amounted to a #3 position on the UK Albums Chart, and a swift disappearance from public view.
Now, with this second set, the shackles are seemingly off, and he’s been allowed to exercise some measure of creative control over the project, lest this be his second flop on the bounce. As it turns out, Garratt must be owed some measure of karmic justice because he gets lucky in a couple of ways. The first of his fortunate moves was to bring in super-producer Jacknife Lee, who, despite allowing the album to run hideously long, turns in a variety of canvases for Garratt to paint his voice across. The second of Garratt’s fortunate moves is to bring in a little variety to the songs this time out. The songs are a little more distinctive, and they’re crafted a little better.
The best song on the album, ‘Better’, has a great Black Keys-y foundation, but doesn’t really capitalise on it, instead it builds towards a flaccid chorus, complete with arbitrary blasting house synths all over the stereo field. If only someone had suggested they take all the noise away, and framed Garratt’s voice with something more complementary. If only they’d had somebody in the studio who had handled the voices of Michael Stipe, Taylor Swift and Gary Lightbody with finesse and sensitivity.
Production missteps hamper ‘Return Them to the One’, where we find Garratt’s voice drowing in a pool of electronic gunk, and the choruses especially bearing the brunt of an aggressive production. ‘Time’, which opens the album, makes better use of electronics – especially seeing as they suit Garratt’s voice – lending the track an uncharacteristically chunky, muscular feel. Other tracks, such as ‘Get In My Way’ and ‘Circles’ use this higher-energy, higher-focus approach to great effect. However, the leaden ‘Doctor Please’ and arduous ‘Only The Bravest’ are two weepers too many for this hour-long epic.
The issues this album has should be abundantly clear to anyone who listens to the whole thing in one sitting. It’s over-long, muddled, a touch over-produced and has so few distinctive qualities that it fails to make any mark beyond the first listen. If this is pop music (and I’m told that it is) then who is it for? What area of the populace are the intended targets of this music? Is this designed for the men who curate the soundtrack of FIFA games, or the men that choose the songs to put in car commercials?
Jacknife Lee is a world-renowned producer, and a big name in the industry, but Stargate or Mark Ronson would been better choices, and it would have been much cheaper to just buy in one smash hit single from Max Martin. Often, it’s these kind of considerations that major labels fail to investigate – proving beyond all doubt that it’s their fault that a talent like Jack Garratt has to try and build a pop career on an album that doesn’t have any hits on it. Twice.
Words: Ross Horton
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