The average listener can be forgiven for not having heard of Alex Valentine. In this day and age acoustic singer-songwriters are ten a penny, and Valentine’s career (A Short Album About Love is his third album) has been played out in obscurity.
None of which should prejudice opinion against the London-born artist, and like his previous efforts Tardis Heart and Local History this is a beguiling album of stripped down acoustic folk rock.
The gentle roll of the opening Hurricane is deceptively simple, but behind the easy guitar picking and the sweet melody a tricky little lyric bubbles away. “I’ve got to get used to the terrible truth/That you’re long gone”, declaims Valentine rather dramatically on the chorus, but he ends the song on a more cryptic note: “Are you tired of me and my love songs?”.
There is much of the same throughout the short running time of A Short Album About Love. Sing A Happy Song, Golden Valley Girl and the Dylan-referencing Tangled Up In You slide by on summery pop melodies while slipping in some well-observed lines from the battlefields of love and life.
Perhaps Valentine overplays the iron fist in a velvet glove routine, but his angelic tenor is an instrument with little room for manoeuvre to be honest. At times A Short Album About Love sounds just a little too sweet for its own good, which has the knock on effect of failing to grab the inattentive listener.
Fortunately, Valentine mixes up the musical side of things to good effect. The stripped down folk of tracks such as Ghost and the very Nick Drake sounding Forbidden Fruit resonate longer in the memory than the album’s more upbeat moments
The album also deviates into countryish territory from time to time, and indeed tracks such as The Widow Swan and Born In A Submarine are among the most memorable moments.
Valentine also has a knack for bashing out great lines such as “I want to sleep inside your skin/And feel you from within” and “like headlights across the ceiling in the deepest dead of dark you haunt my heart” that elevates him above the glut of James Blunt-style singer-songwriters clogging up the airwaves.
For all the good things about A Short Album About Love there is a nagging feeling that Valentine is cursed to forever remain on the sidelines of the music industry. True, this is an exquisitely recorded album that sounds absolutely beautiful, but there is no standout track that would attract the attention of radio programmers. Some people will fall in love with this album, but it will pass a lot of other listeners by.