‘Phase’ has been a long time coming. At 13, Jack Garratt was one of seven unsuccessful finalists hoping to represent the UK at the 2005 Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Eleven years later, following a pre-uni acoustic blues phase and a stint of BBC Introducing support, the bearded Buckinghamshire lad has won both the BBC Sound of 2016 poll and the BRITs’ Critics’ Choice Award with his subwoofer-friendly ballads.
That same double-win is a feat shared by Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding and Adele, now all multi-platinum-selling artists. As the UK charts’ newest Big Deal, Garratt has perfectly pitched his debut, drawing on Ed Sheeran’s formula – loop-filled one-man performances amplified by big, sensitive vocals – and giving it a twist with satisfyingly meaty, on-trend synth work. Thanks to the 24-year-old’s undeniable skills as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and singer, talent oozes from ‘Phase’, even if it’s sometimes put to unadventurous use.
Two synesthesia-related tracks – ‘Coalesce’ and ‘Synesthesia Pt. III’ – are promisingly weird, inspired by the trippy, sense-swapping neurological condition Garratt’s girlfriend shares with musicians including Lorde and Pharrell. These two rework a brilliant, earth-juddering melody from his 2015 ‘Synesthesiac’ EP into a sort of synth-spluttering homage to ‘BTSTU’, the debut demo from enigmatic Rayner’s Lane dude Jai Paul. “I’ll open up your mind,” Garratt yells.
‘Phase’ doesn’t make good on that promise throughout, but is a showcase of solid songwriting and slick production. The dodgiest moments come from the lyrics, which flit from prematurely world-weary on ‘Weathered’ (“If I never let you go/Will you keep me young?”) to overblown self-indulgence on ‘My House Is Your Home’ (“I’ve clothed my fears in the fabric of your dignity”). The pained optimism of ‘Surprise Yourself’ is least mind-opening of all, full of widescreen melodies and silly maxims like “Talk without the tape to hold the doubts that should embrace your hope”.
These overly earnest lines do a disservice to Garratt’s talents as a musician and producer, because the artful melodies and textures on ‘Phase’ really do shine.