By BRUCE DENNILL
Various Artists: Divergent – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack 5
Passenger: Whispers 7
Lunatic Wolf: To The Adventure 7
Hedley: Wild Life 6
Though both Divergent and The Hunger Games are written for the same young adult audience, both the film and the soundtrack for the former feel like they’re somehow the junior cousins of the latter. Most of the songs included here have a rap or hip hop facet to them, certainly a good bet in terms of appealing to an adolescent audience, particularly when combined with a drum and bass club rhythm. What these tracks don’t do, however, is add much in the way of atmosphere, which is so often seen as the most important part of choosing music to accompany moving images. As a result, there’s a disconnect between these compositions and the onscreen story when the latter is not part of the equation. Exceptions to this rule include Snow Patrol’s I Won’t Let You Go (the album’s top track) and the closing quartet of Dead In The Water (Ellie Golding, the majority shareholder in the tracklisting), I Love You by Woodkid (in which Yoann Lemoine’s vocals recall Antony Hegarty’s ethereal voice), Waiting Game by Banks and My Blood, the last of Goulding’s four contributions. In an album of 16 tracks, that little group is not quite enough to lift the project to “memorable” status.
This collection positions Michael David Rosenberg, aka Passenger, as the James Blunt nobody hates. Blunt’s just about made a second career out of replying with scathing wit to those detractors brave or stupid enough to take him on on social media, but Rosenberg is still able to keep his music as the focus of his engagement with audiences. The similarities – both artists deal in folk-based, acoustic guitar-led pop, sung in a high register and laced with sly wit – are strengths, and Whispers has many tracks worth celebrating. First single Heart’s On Fire is Rosenberg displaying his sensitive side, all hushed guitars and strings and expressions of yearning, while 27 is a wry look at his progress to date, warts and all, sung with a smile on his face. Golden Leaves is essentially a Cat Stevens tribute – phrasing, arrangements and production – book-ended by two great mainstream pop tunes, Bullets and Thunder. There’s not a great deal of dynamic range over the course of the album, but Rosenberg’s songwriting is strong enough throughout that there are shades of “good” rather than any really weak moments.
There are so many toys for the modern musician to play with that sometimes the essence of good music – great songwriting and old-fashioned instruments played well – is lost. Lunatic Wolf go back to those basics. To The Adventure qualifies as an addition to the roots revival roster – the Mumfords, Lumineers and all the rest – but it has its own indie flavour as well. Songwriters Gavin van den Berg and Richard Oldfield have a way with a hook that introduces catchy phrases without smacking listeners about the head and shoulders with them. Perhaps the best of these is the line “It happened when I least expected it” in Roses, the first single off the collection and a song as strong as anything released by the most evident band influences, which include Death Cab For Cutie (Van den Berg sounds eerily like Ben Gibbard occasionally). Multi-instrumentalist Jacques du Plessis is also a very fine producer, able to create a pleasing, natural sense of space around his and his colleagues’ playing, which is never more elaborate than it needs to be. A song like I Sold My Hopes, for instance, has a dynamic curve, but it’s so subtle that the gentle shuffling beat introduced halfway through more or less doubles the sound. The band’s restraint manifests in other ways as well, with there being a real feeling that they know when a song is done and don’t force the issue, with the result that Growing Up, Growing Old is just over two-and-a-half minutes, while Cannonballs barely makes it past two. While the playing is wonderfully clean and precise, it remains to be seen what sort of reception Lunatic Wolf will meet with live. In folk clubs or the like, they’ll fly, but the understated nature of their approach means that keeping rowdier audiences focused may be a challenge.
Hedley, like countrywoman Avril Lavigne aim at making vaguely edgy lyrical statements (“You can’t tell me what to do”, essentially, on album opener and single Anything) but couching those declarations in light, electronic pop. Their sound and approach makes them a boy band in all but the section of shelf their CDs occupy in music stores (that and their penchant for throwing in swearwords every so often, which your average Svengali would never sign off on). The band have an excellent sense of what will likely appeal to mainstream radio and, while they’re in no danger of pushing any sonic boundaries, Hedley will, with this collection, ensure that there’s an hour of extra material that will keep youngsters endlessly pogoing at their concerts. I’ll Be With You and Heaven In Our Headlights are strong tracks with notably different feels, while (unexpectedly, given the title), Wild Life is the quietest moment on an album that, while it has limited scope, should make its way into the collections of a number of younger listeners.