In a lot of ways – except the obvious one – Lewis Capaldi is the perfect pop star for 2019. The 22-year-old from Bathgate, near Glasgow, is a social media don. He’s frequently hilarious on Twitter and is fully immersed in online culture, as evidenced when he photobombed a red carpet interview at the Brit Awards and became immortalised in GIF form. With his messy hair and goofy demeanour, Capaldi seemed out of kilter with the shindig and its coiffed attendees. That’s as much of a performance as anything else, of course, but has made him #relatable.
He’s a funny interviewee (when he entered NME’s bright white studio for the chat embedded below, he quipped, “Fucking hell! I feel like I’ve got meningitis!”) and never seems more comfortable and engaged than when he’s waxing lyrical about Buckfast, the cheap-and-cheerful tonic wine that’s accrued cult status in his homeland. No wonder Capaldi’s announced a UK arena tour before his debut album has even been released: punters probably anticipate part stand-up show, part pop concert. His music – emotional piano ballads – sits at stark contrast with his public persona, which perhaps adds to the intrigue.
It’s not a particularly original schtick – didn’t Adele already do this? – but is obviously working: recent single ‘Someone You Loved’, its weepie video starring his distant relative, the actor Peter Capaldi, spent seven weeks at Number One. The song is as safe as they come, a lilting piano-led track on which he uses the phrase “to have and to hold” without irony. On that song, his vocal performance is relatively restrained, his voice fluttering pleasantly to high notes in the verse, though on the chorus he strays into the rasp that appears across the album. The boy has more gravel than a branch of B&Q. Most of this album adheres to a similar formula – all that really fluctuates is the extremity of his existential howl; this peaks with ‘Hold Me While You Wait’, another piano ballad, which builds to a pained crescendo.
‘Forever’, ‘One’, ‘Lost On You’, ‘Grace’ and ‘Fade’ all tread a similar path. Things get a bit more interesting on ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’, a sparse arrangement that swells into a jazzy groove; and on final track ‘Headspace’, which pairs mournful electric guitar with bruised lyrics such as, “I find my lights fading out / More and more by the hour”, the kind of song Capaldi’s edgier mate Sam Fender might release. It’s somewhat baffling that such a charismatic star could make a record so lacking in personality, though his fans won’t mind one bit.