Newton Faulkner has returned with his fifth studio album with a new look and a new sound. The dreadlocks are off and the folky guitar has taken a back seat.
Whether it be covering Major Lazer, collaborating with Empire of the Sun or sharing songwriting credits with a UK pop powerhouse, there are all the signs that Newton Faulkner is trying to evolve his sound.
Unfortunately there is a fine line between progressing your sound and losing your individuality by sounding like everyone else.
Not wanting to sound like every media-managed sportsperson in a pot-match press conference, but Human Love really is an album of two halves. The album sees Faulkner evolve his sound beyond his trademark percussive folk guitar playing and into much grander indie rock performances. While this is a refreshing change for the first half of the album, unfortunately it grows tired as the record turns for home. This also isn’t helped by the fact that the album’s second half contains tracks that are of inferior quality to their predecessors anyway.
The album begins with a benign cover of Major Lazer’s breakthrough hit “Get Free”. This cover is vastly inferior to the original and brings nothing to the album or any sense of reinterpretation to what is one of the best songs of the 2010’s so far. It does however signal a change in the direction for the record stemming from what must be a change in influences for the artist.
The next four tracks could have formed what would have been one of the best EPs of 2015. “Up Up and Away”, “Step in the Right Direction”, album highlight “Passing Planes” and “Stay and Take” are all songs that show progression in Faulkner’s sound while still linking to the artist’s past.
“Up Up and Away” contains catchy and impressive percussive guitar playing and a classic crowd-sing-a-long chorus. It is a pleasant and uplifting song, something people relate Newton Faulkner to and there is no overbearing production which much of the remainder of the album get drowned behind.
“Step in the Right Direction” follows which evolves the sound further with the inclusion of electronic drums but again there remain all the signs that this is a Newton Faulkner song. “Passing Planes”, while again continuing this controlled and methodical evolution, is also the best track on the album containing wonderfully grandiose piano and percussion along with Faulkner’s strong vocal and acoustic guitar delivery. It is the highlight of the album and is surely the prototype for what Faulkner should have aimed to achieve for the record.
“Stay and Take”, the final track of the best EP that never was, features Tessa Rose Jackson on vocals and is a charming upbeat duet which features two quite different yet complimentary vocals.
It is after this point that the album either gets lost or sounds repetitive. “Break”, “Can I Be Enough” and the album closer “Human Love” are more stripped back and simple but this doesn’t work well with the rest of the album. There is always scope or a slight change of direction briefly on an album, an X-factor if you will. But these three tracks really harm the flow of the album and are also just average songs at best.
“Far to Fall” and “Gone” are nice songs in a similar mold to the first half of the record, however they do not build further upon what has gone before them. “Far to Fall” does feature songwriting credits from Dan Drewett, a UK songwriter responsible for nine top ten singles in his native Britain with artists like The Weekend, Olly Murs and One Direction. His fingerprints are near invisible on this track however as it blends in rather uneventfully with the other up-tempo tracks on the album.
Finally there is the penultimate track “Shadow Boxing”, produced by Empire of the Sun. This track has every element of the generic modern sound that Empire of the Sun became on their second record Ice on the Dune. Unfortunately they have transported that tired sound to this album and the record is worse for its presence. There is Faulkner’s electronically altered voice, there is the typical synth chorus and the run-of-the-mill electronic drum beat. All together it is a song that could’ve been sung by anyone to not much fanfare and for some reason, and rather unfortunately, it has found its way onto this record.
Faulkner must be applauded for trying to progress his sound, but he gets mightily lost in the process. There are traces of a positive transition to commence the record, but the second half reverts back to uninspiring acoustic while also leaping further forward with the production heavy “Shadow Boxing”. An album should have a sound. You should be able to listen to an artist’s track and be able to tell what record it was off (think Kanye West or Coldplay). Human Love is a mish-mash of a lot of things and it sadly doesn’t work. There is some pleasant listening to be had, but there are only some tracks that will remain with you. The album as a whole is somewhat disposable.
Artist: Newton Faulkner
Album Title: Human Love
Genre: Folk, Indie
Moments Of Stand Out: Passing Planes
- This review was written by Ellipsis.