At the beginning of his career, Rag’n’Bone Man was an interesting prospect, having risen up playing at various hip-hop nights around Brighton. Gradually shifting away from that world, and instead fusing his impressive bluesy gravel with skittering electronic production, the artist – real name Rory Graham – soon began forging some intriguing artistic partnerships; his 2014 release ‘Wolves’ featured both Vince Staples and Kae Tempest as guest artists.
In comparison, debut album ‘Human’ seemed to sanitise everything that was appealing about Rag’n’Bone Man in the first place, with all sense of playfulness or surprise scrubbed away to make room for soul almost entirely lacking heart. Instead: roaring but empty platitudes about being ”only human after all” (‘Human’) getting “lost in the fire of love” (‘The Fire’) and this especially head scratching image on ‘Bitter End’. “All of the lines we’ve crossed, they’ve finally bust us open/As a thousand tiny paper cuts align,” he sings – a sure sign of needing to switch stationery suppliers.
You have to wonder if Rag’N’Bone Man might’ve done better left to his own devices, because unfortunately ‘Life in Misadventure’ is another uneventful ride around the retro-soul ferris wheel. Fortunately, Graham’s exceptionally powerful vocal – flecked with expressive gravel, and an impressive range – could make a dramatic reading of a Tesco receipt sound charged with feeling, because beneath the delivery this is a record that often leans back on pure musical pastiche, and lyrical clichés that say very little indeed. On the twanging ‘Time Will Only Tell’, country-lite guitars make way for warm Motown-style horns, as Graham asks if we’re “listening to ourselves.” What we’re supposed to be listening out for remains a mystery.
‘Lightyears’ – a twinkling ballad custom-made for a thousand swaying lighters – is as deep as an inspirational fridge magnet: “Start living life in the moment”. ‘Changing of the Guard’ shoots for Fleetwood Mac spindliness, and is even sprinkled with a few synths: “How do I break this chain?” he wonders. And a duet with P!nk – ‘Anywhere Away from Here’ – soars vocally, but unearths nothing new. What could’ve been a playful vocal play between two gifted singers with eclectic tastes is instead entirely predictable power-pop by numbers.
In making his second album, Rag’N’Bone Man retreated to a recording studio in Gallatin, Tennessee and linked up with a number of big Nashville names – unfortunately, none of them can save it. In music, there are few things more tiresome than an artist obsessed with the idea of authenticity – they usually forget how to have fun. And this is a trap that Rag’N’Bone Man’s second album ‘Life in Misadventure’ falls straight into.
Release date: May 7
Release label: Columbia