If I were a younger lady with a lever-arch file full of school work and back row notes (“Have you *SEEN* Mrs Jones’ VPL today?!?!?!?”), then it would seem that this year, music has conspired to make it very easy for me to scribble my music-related fancyings onto its front for all and sundry to see.
Gone are the trials of trying to glue on as many pictures of Johnny Borrell and Ricky Wilson as possible and then stickybackplasticking them all just so; these days, you may just write JAM(I)E(S) on the front in big glitterpen letters, a handy catchall to encompass your ardour for the music of those ever so polite nice London chaps, Jamies Woon and xx, and Sir James of Blake.
Depending on how you look at it, this sharing of letters is either rather serendipitous or a big fat pain in the bum for these three, the latter because lazy types are going to conclude that three homophones doth a scene make. But as anyone who’s spent any time wallowing in their lovely sounds will know, the name of the game here is subtlety; the important differences almost hiding in the empty spaces rather than the filled ones, of which there are plenty in Jamie Woon’s debut, ‘Mirrorwriting’.
NME’s Hardeep Phull flagged up the the subtleties of Woon’s craft in our mag review, noting that “the impressively slick slow-jam ‘Spiral’, for example, is just one sexually deviant couplet away from being a potential hit for R Kelly. The darker, earthier grooves of ‘Spirits’, meanwhile, sound like the troubled but gifted offspring of a tempestuous union between Timbaland and Geoff Barrow.” He goes on to call ‘Mirrorwriting’ “undoubtedly [post-dubstep’s] most commercial and accessible offering to date,” awarding it 7/10.
The Guardian’s Hazel Sheffield disagrees wholeheartedly on the genre front, however, stating that “this is pop, and as pop, ‘Mirrorwriting’ showcases a slick but uninventive pastiche of rhythm and soul. ‘Lady Luck’ and ‘Middle’ revive pop R&B stylings perfected by Justin Timberlake a decade ago, while ‘Spirals’ and ‘Gravity’ employ acoustic guitar to mawkish effect.” Hazel’s seen fit to give it just two stars out of five.
Crikey. Reading more of these reviews, it seems as though Jamie’s subtle nature has often been mistaken for a lack of fixed identity, as The Observer’s Kitty Empire notes. “Heard from one angle,” she writes, “Woon is the sort of singer-songwriter that record companies love to turn into James Morrison,” going on to conclude that his smooth purrs could sweep “up a listenership who find… James Blake too austere.” She also notes his learning of The xx’s sparse lessons, one one hand concluding that “‘Mirrorwriting just adds dubstep wobble and digital tricks to otherwise unspectacular songs,” but concluding that “for the most part, Woon strikes a terrific balance between convention and subversion.” She’s doled out an appropriately middling 3/5 for his debut effort.
Drawing a few slightly less obvious (and rather more baffling) set of comparisons is the BBC’s Paul Clarke, who claims that “stood next to Blake and The xx, ‘Mirrorwriting’ sounds like Katy Perry covering ‘Walking On Sunshine’: which is to say that he’s both much more accessible and a lot less gloomy than his contemporaries, even if his music is equally enigmatic and enchanting.” Righto then Paul…
Journeying a bit further into the weird and wonderful psyche of Britain’s music reviewers, we come to Drowned In Sound’s Krystina Nellis, who claims that ‘Mirrorwriting is “a rather ruddy sexy album.” She’s “sure a pool could be started over exactly which lyric from this album is going to launch a thousand pairs of knickers, because the album is jammed with them.” ‘Middle”s “I can’t get enough of your love” chorus gets her vote, “sung in Woon’s voice of molten gold.” I think someone needs a cold shower. Krystina’s given him 8/10.
‘Mirrorwriting’ isn’t going to be keeping The Line Of Best Fit’s Jamie Milton awake at night, however, commenting that it “has more in common with instrumental “chillout” music than dubstep. The Burial production of ‘Night Air’ fails to be replicated elsewhere, too: with the aforementioned’s albums, you get this deep, vivid picture of urban London on a wet, dark evening. With Woon’s effort, you can’t help but fall into a slumber; the album’s nowhere near as stimulating.”
Quite a mixed bag for young Woon, then. So what’s the verdict? Are you going to be scrawling his name across your school folder, or consigning ‘Mirrorwriting’ to the “curing insomnia” pile?