Paolo Nutini’s ‘Caustic Love’ might just be the most overhyped album of 2014 so far. You’d be hard pressed to go anywhere at the moment without seeing the Scottish singer songwriter’s face emblazoned across a billboard, a TV screen or a Spotify account. But is this really the album the public wants? Or is Nutini just the latest example of the industry’s determination to force serious guitar music on to the masses?
The excessive marketing is understandable. It’s been five years since Nutini’s second album ‘Sunny Side Up’ was released so, with this long-awaited and more mature release, it’s time to reassert his position. And that position seems to be as the next big soul star, a position that’s already overcrowded.
Nutini does little to distinguish himself, besides his unique sandpaper vocals. ‘Caustic Love’ might be a step on from the annoyingly jaunty ska and doo-wop inspired songs from his previous albums, but this is still a fusion of soul, rock, funk and blues that rarely strays from James Brown territory. Opening track and lead single Scream (Funk My Life Up) establishes the funky soulful sound that feels like a man covering Janelle Monae. Ironically enough Monae crops up later on Fashion, immediately elevating the track with her effortless cool. Better Man is a typical acoustic snoozefest, whilst tracks like One Day, Numpty and Looking For Something roll together into a string of derivative, if well executed, songs.
When Nutini does break the mould he proves his potential. Iron Sky is the album’s centrepiece – a six minute storm of raining guitars, stomping drums and a pained, impassioned vocal that together reach an almighty crescendo in the final third. The effect is superbly powerful. It’s followed by Diana, a downbeat and moody slice of jazz soul with a wandering bass, light touches of organ and a vocal that’s more subtle but no less raw than the previous track. The album then closes with the gently lilting Someone Like You, Nutini’s vocal supported solely by bass guitar in a move that’s worlds away from the overwrought opening track.
It’s clear that Nutini is posited as a serious and talented musician, with a suitably caustic voice that lends a wealth of emotion to each and every vocal line. Yet he’s equally a musician living in the past. This is not an album that reimagines soul music for a new generation, but simply replicates past glories. Does this really herald the return of serious guitar music? Your move music industry…
* Iron Sky
* Someone Like You
Listen: ‘Caustic Love’ is available now.