Between Bon Iver and Ed Sheeran, an awful lot of bobble hats have been turned. Over the past 10 years every folkie with a soulful falsetto and a beard like the aftermath of a woodland fire has had their career horizons opened far beyond the local scrumpy festival. Now an acoustic, a sweater, a loop pedal and a rudimentary knowledge of one’s way around a glitchy R&B beat feel like one-way tickets to total pop domination.
Enter Ireland’s James Vincent McMorrow, one of the more avid chasers of the ‘Shape Of You’ dollar. 2010’s debut album ‘Early In The Morning’ cast him as Dublin’s own Justin Vernon, right down to the foggy cabin atmospherics and pining, waif-like vocal. Over three subsequent albums he introduced retro soul textures, ambient electronica and minimalist R&B with the help of producers such as Nineteen85 and Frank Dukes. Now, with fifth album ‘Grapefruit Season’, his transition to Sheeran 2.0 is complete.
From the off, on ‘Paradise’, tired and overused EDM pop tricks – the tiny-robot backing vocal, the stop-start glitch beats, the acoustic guitar seemingly being played by Dalek – drench the songwriting like sweat off the label accountant’s brow. ‘Gone’ is that particularly desperate brand of glum synthetic samba pop that swears liberally and drops drug references (“I give less fucks than I used to, still give a lot of fuck… I do less drugs than I used to, still do a lot”) in order to affect a frisson of left-field danger in a genre about as edgy as a fishbowl of Britvic.
The folly of McMorrow’s shift into the mainstream is encapsulated in the central pairing of ‘Waiting’ and ‘Poison’. The first is a moving acoustic-and-falsetto paean of memory and regret stripped of all pop affectation; the second a piano-led ode to drunk dialling an ex that adheres so closely to every box-ticking Big Soul Ballad formula that it exudes all the genuine emotion of a money-counting machine.
Things improve marginally towards the back. ‘We Don’t Kiss Under Umbrellas Like We Used To’ shares some of ‘Waiting’’s charm; ‘Grapefruit’ may be standard pop gospel fare, but is brushed with immersive ambient arpeggios. ‘Hollywood And Vine’ has a pleasant pop glisten, a hook that’s more catchy than irritating and one decent lol in the line: “I pray to Kanye you’ll never leave”. But with new Sheeran incoming in a matter of weeks, ‘Grapefruit Season’ looks set to be mercifully short this year.
Release date: September 17
Record label: Sony Music