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TOM CHAPLIN: Center Point (BMG)
Verdict: Crisis? Which midlife crisis?
VALERIE JUNE: Under Cover (Fantasy)
Verdict: Standards with a country soul twist
NINA NESBITT: Älskar (cooking vinyl)
Verdict: Scandi Pop and Ballads
Few bands have sung about the innocence of youth as convincingly as Keane did with their 2004 debut album, Hopes And Fears.
The Sussex group brilliantly framed their salad days with songs like Somewhere Only We Know and Everybody’s Changing, launching a career with their first five LPs topping the UK charts.
Capturing the mood swings of a bruised but unbent 40’s is less glamorous, but that’s what Tom Chaplin tries to do on his new solo album, Midpoint.
The singer, 43, found himself in a bind when Keane’s Cause And Effect tour was halted by the pandemic, and he began writing songs that summed up his feelings about approaching middle age.
Capturing the mood swings of a bruised but unbent forties is less glamorous, but that’s what Tom Chaplin tries to do on his new solo album, Midpoint.
“There’s room for something nuanced that explores a part of life that everyone else goes through,” he explains, wearing his heart on his sleeve here. There is a lot of confessional reflection from a man who has been clean and sober for seven years after treatment for cocaine and alcohol addiction – but his enduring hope ultimately surpasses all lingering fears.
He also has enough to feel good about. After surviving his “disastrous meltdown,” as he puts it, he now lives in Kent with his wife Natalie and their two children.
Earlier this year he showed his lighter side by appearing on ITV’s The Masked Singer. . . dressed as a seven-foot poodle. And his unmistakable, show-stopping voice is clearly still in great shape.
Midpoint was created with producer Ethan Johns, the multi-instrumentalist son of Beatles and Rolling Stones sound engineer Glyn Johns, and many of the 13 tracks have an old-fashioned, analog feel.
Six years ago, on his first solo album The Wave, Chaplin shied away from the piano melodies that were Keane’s signature, but this time there’s no such restraint.
On an album dominated by ballads, the ivory is tickled a lot, while producer Johns, who also plays guitar and drums, adds light and shade by adding vintage electronic instruments such as the Chamberlin and the Mellotron.
Some songs have a subtle, jazzy edge; others look to the easy arrangements of Jackson Browne and James Taylor.
There are reflections on mortality. In the title track, a guitar ballad that evolves into a full-tilt rocker, Chaplin uses his shrill falsetto voice as he reflects on the ‘quicksand in the hourglass’.
But he is philosophical. ‘Sorrow and woe, they come and go’, he muses about Rise And Fall. On Colorful Light he still dares to dream. . . that’s the problem with me’. He pays tribute to his children and sings about his love for his wife, although the most revealing song is It’s Over, which resembles his rewarding but enigmatic relationship with Keane bandmate Tim Rice-Oxley.
Longtime fans of the band will love the song’s tumbling melody and soaring chorus, but they may be concerned about the title’s implications. The group took a six-year sabbatical between 2013 and 2019. Could there be another long break ahead?
With over 55 minutes of music, and an emphasis on slower songs, there are times when Midlife unwinds. Some songs will take a while to make their mark, but the album is not without happy moments.
Black Hole is lyrically gloomy – ‘big black hole, come take my soul’ – but the piano and brass band accompaniment is clearly cheerful. The same goes for Cameo, a tinkling guitar rocker on which Chaplin outlines his determination to go out with a bang when his time comes. “My last role will not be a cameo,” he sings.
But for now, his midlife inventory has produced a warm, compelling record that suggests his solo career still has a long way to go.
Valerie June polishes her growing reputation with her heady set at the All Points East festival in London last weekend.
Valerie June polishes her growing reputation with her heady set at last weekend’s All Points East festival in London (she takes the stage at the festival in Victoria Park on Friday)
The American singer-songwriter sings with a Dolly Parton-esque Tennessee twang and leads a tight-knit rock and roll band with soulful confidence. Traditionally, the 40-year-old sprinkles her live shows with covers—last weekend she sang Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World—and takes it one step further with Under Cover, an eight-track mini-album featuring classics from John Lennon, Nick Cave and others.
If you’re exploring her music for the first time, you’d better start with last year’s sublime The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers, but Under Cover is still a reliable guide to her freewheeling approach.
June, who plays guitar, banjo and ukulele, has earned Bob Dylan’s admiration, and she returns that compliment here with a lively country version of Dylan’s love song Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You. Some of her covers are too obvious – do we really need another version of Lennon’s Imagine? — but the more ambitious choices work a treat.
Rapper Frank Ocean’s break-up ballad Godspeed is treated with tender respect, and rockers Mazzy Star’s MTV anthem Fade Into You gets a snappy, southern twist.
Edinburgh singer Nina Nesbitt delves into her part-Swedish heritage on her third album, Älskar
Fresh from duets with Chris Martin on Coldplay’s UK stadium tour, Edinburgh singer Nina Nesbitt delves into her part-Swedish heritage on her third album, Älskar. The title means ‘to love’ in Swedish, and Nesbitt started writing while visiting her grandmother in Scandinavia before the pandemic. Then she finished the album on Zoom.
She’s at her best on the clever electro-pop of No Time (For My Life To Suck), playfully pitched between Taylor Swift and Sigrid, while the empowering anthem Pressure Makes Diamonds features a dig of celebrities who find fame through family ties. “I’m not a rich girl,” she sings. “My father wasn’t famous in the ’80s.”
Her ballads, which come to the fore as Älskar progresses, are hit and miss. Dinner Table deftly details a conversation between three generations of women from the same family, but Colors Of You falls into romantic clichés.
Nesbitt falls short of fully imposing her own musical style, but she is a witty, inventive lyricist. One to watch.
Tom Chaplin embarks on a UK tour in Leicester on October 6 (ticketmaster.co.uk).
Nina Nesbitt kicks off a tour on November 13 in Stylus, Leeds (ticketmaster.co.uk).