Nothing burns quite as intensely as the musical obsessions of a teenager. In the throes of adolescence, your heroes become gargantuan, as if their sheer coolness elevates them to a different race of megapeople. They are not JUST a band. They are Apollo to the Greek Gods: drawling, bedraggled Apollos that orchestrate the heavens with their beaten up electric guitars. This is a world where Dylan is the Messiah, Leonard Cohen is the Holy Spirit and The Stones are chubby little cherubs flying around with lyres and lutes. For me, there are mainstays of infatuation: Dry The River, Dr. Dog, Laura Marling, Fiona Apple. And then there are those that I have a brief love affair with before they fall away like ash on the end of a cigarette. One such person is Tom Odell, who some of you might remember as the posh Brit baby that had a penchant for middle partings and long expensive-looking coats.
For a brief period, Tom had me wrapped around his little finger. His passionate piano playing gripped me and I loved his palpable desperation. He had the anger of youth and the sorrow of rejection. He was like a far edgier Elton John. For those of you rolling your eyes, I would like a chance to defend myself. “Another Love”, his most famous track, is undeniably charged with pained emotion. The despondent piano chords match his melancholy vocals and he reveals his ability to switch from a cracking whisper to a harsh scream. It’s simple–there’s no denying that, but it’s raw. It’s rare to find a piano playing singer-songwriter who has that fire.
Even more intense is “Can’t Pretend”, which I must have listened to every day for a month when I found it. The build up to the roaring chorus is like a bubbling cauldron of angst. With wailing back up singers, insistent piano chords and electric guitars, the meaty chorus doesn’t disappoint. It’s rough around edges: gritty yet still soulful.
But what sealed the deal for me was his live presence. I saw him at a free open air gig in Marlborough and it was electric. I thought he might break the piano with his crazed performance. The fire of his recorded stuff translated well and I respected him for giving it that much for such a small time gig.
It’s not like I didn’t see his flaws, trust me. Even with my eyes a little glazed over, I could see that he went way too far at times. Although his sensitivity was attractive it was also sometimes creepy and at others like rolling around in grated Parmesan, having a dip in a vat of hot cheddar, then baking yourself on top of a wheel of Camembert. The song “Grow Old With Me” makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth when I listen to it. “Make me hard/Make me cum” is one of those lines that you know he’s included to warrant people like me calling him edgy. A graphic sexual reference? What a bad boy! Bet he has long hair as well! “Sense” may as well have been written for that scene from every romcom when they’ve had a fight and now there’s a sad montage of each of them walking in the rain. And “Sirens” sounds like it was nicked straight from The Script’s recording studio. In other words: it’s as beige as Brad Pitt arriving at LAX.
Despite a good portion of his music sounding like it was written by a wet towel, I liked him. I liked him because he was having a go a being different. Sure, he failed, but in this cut throat industry, you’ve got to applaud a man for trying. Lo and behold, Tom has done something that up and coming Brit favourites have an alarming tendency to do. He has sold his soul to the man and become a huge pot of vanilla ice cream. As if the cheese wasn’t bad enough, he’s now decided to take himself in a new and depressingly shite direction.
“Magnetised” is a sad sad excuse for a single. He’s tried to do that thing where songs mean something. He needs help. Someone help him please. “Love is like a flower in the snow”: maybe trying the shit version of Shakespeare angle? “I wish you had a little ferremones for me”: THATS NOT EVEN GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT. And then there’s the synth. It’s as if his producers have looked at Ellie Goulding and gone “that blond girl trying to sing seems to be popular- I know, let’s copy exactly what she does and make all our music sound like an Ibiza edit of a mediocre pop hit!!!” Congrats guys, you found the magic key: a simple, overused chord pattern repeated relentlessly until the song comes to an underwhelming end.
“Wrong Crowd” is…wait for it…EVEN WORSE. Is he trying to manufacture feeble pre-remixed house versions of his own songs? Who thought it was a good idea to include whilsting? Who OKed that? Why is there a weird distorted electric guitar solo that drops out of the blue like a bird shit on some poor guy’s head? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. This song reminds me of the first time I heard the new Mumford and Sons album. These songs are like a person whose soul has been sucked out by a dementor. They sound like they ran out of ideas so they decided to record their own farts and use those instead
Once upon a time, I instagrammed a picture of the NME headline, “Offensively dull piano pop destined for Brits ubiquity” with the caption “worst review ever, stay away from Tom NME #losers #rash”. Today, as much as I hate to admit it, I am eating my hat. Time for a sentence I never thought I’d say: NME, you were right. Even though you said it in meaner words than were justified, you had the basic sentiment. This guy is a wasted talent. And you know what? I bet he’s friends with James Bay.