Tom Grennan once lived with his ex on the pleasant – if slightly nondescript – street that inspired the title of this second album. Unmistakably a break-up record, ‘Evering Road’ sees the Bedford-born singer weathering a painful split and trying to reinvent himself as a better man.
He’s heavily influenced by jazz, soul and hip-hop, but Bedford-born Grennan’s varied influences aren’t always immediately apparent in his music. On 2018 debut ‘Lighting Matches’, they linger vaguely in the background. Since the release of Amy Winehouse’s wildly influential ‘Back to Black’ and Adele’s ‘21’ – one of the most successful albums of all time – a certain quarter of pop music has been dominated by these two artists’ lesser imitators, all blending anthemic heft with signifiers of soul: honking parps of trumpet, big meaty snares and spiralling orchestration. The best players seize on the old tradition and make it new; the worst strike upon a new mutation of carefully engineered soul-pop altogether lacking in heart.
In all of this, the voice is crucial: an artist’s ability to sell the raw feeling at the centre of every word, and to say something stark and surprising in the process, marks the clear line between brilliant soul-pop and its beige counterpart. It’s also the line that separates a genius lyricist like Winehouse from nostalgic musical pastiche. With a rough-hewn vocal gravel, Grennan’s vocal stands out from the polished crowd, but on ‘Lighting Matches’ there was little there to differentiate his soul-lite tinkering from the rest of the indie-pop pack.
In this department, ‘Evering Road’ is a vast improvement on its predecessor. ‘Oh Please’ melds synthetic strings with twinkles of funk guitar and a bassy beat and ‘Something Better’ flexes Grennan’s falsetto atop fidgeting guitar and syncopated brass stabs. ‘Second Time’ also sets him apart from many of his pained singer-songwriter contemporaries. “Hoping that your heart will let you fall in love for a second time,” he sings, as if writing a letter he’ll never send, wishing happiness for his ex while still holding onto the hope that they’ll find it again with him. “Say there’s still a light on,” he suggests, “I’ll be there tonight.”
Such writing is almost enough to help you overlook ‘Evering Road’s more laboured moments – but not quite. “I don’t go to church – but Amen!” Grennan hollers on, erm, ‘Amen’, sounding like an east London Hozier. With its piano intro straight from the playbook of Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’, ‘It Hurts’ is high on emotion but low on substance – ”teach yourself some lessons and go back to school” isn’t quite the searing putdown it could’ve been. And often ‘Evering Road’ retreats to the one-tone safety of unremarkable but emotionally stirring indie-pop – soaring high notes, urgently buzzing strings and solemnly plodding piano, but little originality.
Grennan’s frank honesty – on the minimalist pop ditty ‘This is the Place’, he details drinking his way through pain – should be commended. His male contemporaries would do well to take notes on his generous framing of being hurt by another person, which never becomes self-absorbed or nasty. The most experimental moments of ‘Evering Road’ show him to be capable of surprising, and he certainly has the powerhouse voice to match. By the end, you’re just left wishing he’d pushed it much further.
Release date: March 12
Release label: Insanity Records