As an artist, onething that always looms overhead is how to top what you have already done. For a previous Ivor Novello winner Tom Odell, that question is ever present as he looks to recapture the magic of his first album.
Is it simply about being more open as a songwriter? Or is it about having more tools at your disposal this time around?
On his new album ‘Wrong Crowd’ Odell deals with the familiar pitfalls that success can bring and, as a whole, the album is bigger, bolder and in many ways lighter than its predecessor.
One thing’s for sure, Odell’s greatest strength as a songwriter is his honesty. Where some artists might leave it to the listener to fill in the blanks, Odell lays it all on the line. On Magnetised he dwells over a case of unrequited love. As he laments during the chorus “I’m magnetised to somebody that don’t feel it, love paralyzed, she’s never gonna need me,” it’s clear that he wears his heart on his sleeve and he isn’t afraid to show this through his songwriting.
This time around he’s also backed by a much larger production. On Constellations, for example, a string section adds real emotional resonance to an already gorgeous ballad. When things are really laid bare like this on the album, Odell’s songwriting shines through.
There are times however, where the production can be overbearing and you can almost see the guiding hand of the record label influencing the sound of the songs.
Silhouette is one of the main offenders here, as the message of the song is completely swallowed up by overproduction. It’s quite clear that the song is made for the dancefloor and for that reason it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Here I Am suffers a similar fate, despite having a much more promising start. As before, the song eventually descends into another failed attempt at a disco track. These two moments are the weakest on the album and see Tom Odell overstretching his boundaries as an artist.
The biggest transformation on the album though, is the change in style. Tom Odell really sheds his singer-songwriter skin and embraces his inner popstar. The most effective moments on the album are when Odell only gently sprinkles the songs with pop elements.
The undoubted highlight is the title track Wrong Crowd, as it perfectly showcases this shift. The song opens with him setting the scene “She says please boy no more fighting, it’s only going to do you harm.” In the chorus he reveals his new bad boy persona “But I can’t help it, I don’t know how, I guess I’ll always be hanging round with the wrong crowd.”
It’s moments like this that show how good a songwriter Odell is and how he is really embracing the spotlight shining on him. If the question for Tom Odell was how do you outdo yourself, the answer is quite simply to enjoy the ride……and also write some great songs along the way.