Five years ago Jack Garratt was hotly tipped as the next big thing. A one-man pop machine who won the 2015 BRITs Critics Choice Award and the BBC’s Sound Of 2016 poll, Garratt was an industry shoo-in. But this success, he revealed recently, “screwed me completely”; he’s been stifled by lifelong self-doubt. The attention and the awards had become something of a poisoned chalice. After releasing his debut album, ‘Phase’, he put everything on hold.
‘Love, Death & Dancing’ is a shrine to Garratt’s survival from a bleak period of crippling anxiety and creative hindrance during which he scrapped an album’s worth of material. His new record is a kaleidoscopic celebration of self-acceptance. As Garratt sings on ‘Doctor Please’: “It’s fine not to be OK”.
He explores these internal battles throughout ‘Love, Death & Dancing’ – particularly on ‘Better’. “Something’s telling me to save myself / Something’s telling me to hurt myself”, Garratt sings in his studio-ready tenor as sawtoothed guitars and bombastic house beats vie for attention with the voices in his head. These aren’t the only elements scrambling for a look-in: there’s a looping Vine video sample; a build to a hands-in-the-air electro drop; a dreamy, acoustic bridge played at half speed; and an incongruous Stevie Wonder-style funk riff. In fact, ‘Better’ is in some ways too busy for its own good.
This plethora of ideas prevents the whole album from truly connecting. It’s a maximalist’s wet dream and a minimalist’s nightmare. Take ‘Return Them To The One’, which could have played out nicely with its subtle brass fanfare, militaristic drum rolls and smatters of electronic glitch. But Garratt morphs it into a gaudy, vocoder-addled dancefloor romp. He regrets the “clever bullshit” of his debut, but sometimes it feels like he hasn’t moved on.
That said, lyrically, Garratt now writes more honestly about his experiences. On ‘She Will Lay My Body On The Stone’, the record’s only skeletal song, Garratt sings over plaintive piano notes about his wife’s “radiance” that’s “gone to waste on me”. The song is a letter to death, inspired by a real life moment in which he’d contemplated suicide. It’s a crushing moment that exposes how unworthy he’s felt of his wife’s love. But he later recedes – “I still have many years to know” – singing beautifully above hymnal chords, resolving that death isn’t the answer.
On ‘Anyone’ Garratt again pulls focus on worthlessness. He positions aquatic Jai Paul-style guitar licks next to a sequence of cymbal crashes and lyrical barks of “How could I ever love somebody / Other than the one who made me feel I was somebody”, all of which lands a punky blow. The dynamics are thrillingly jarring, stabilised at the end by a bluesy cacophony of wavering synths, brass squalls and guitar whig-outs.
Sadly, Garratt’s over-reliance on gospel-inspired codas feels trite elsewhere (see ‘Get In My Way’, ‘Doctor Please’, ‘Old Enough’), as if he’s making shortcuts to emotional engagement. It can leave you cold. There are sparks of brilliance on ‘Love, Death & Dancing’; Garratt’s multifaceted talent is undeniable and his honesty is admirable. But, please, less is more next time.
Release date: June 12
Record label: Island Records