A-listed on Radio 2, only to tour UK arenas supporting The Wanted – it’s hard to know precisely where to pigeon-hole budding troubadour Ben Montague. These days, the charts are unkind to singers of his ilk – he’s not a club-primed Calvin Harris type, nor is he the kind of ‘authenticity’-paragon typified by Ed Sheeran or Ben Howard. Instead he harks back to an older kind of male solo star – an era where Robbie Williams would put out single after single and the public would cherish them for what they were; great pop records.
But the joy of Tales of Flying and Falling is that it doesn’t concern itself with any of that – there are no grasping attempts at credibility (as befell a certain painter/decorator-cum-X Factor winner). Instead it concerns itself with getting on with the business of crafting its own space, its own story. Montague himself feels comfortable at the heart of it all – delivering a robust vocal performance across a swathe of well-written contemporary pop-rock that touches on the Stereophonics and the Script, but always remains its own creation.
The album’s lead singles – Love Like Stars and Another Hard Fall – present a concise summary of Montague’s sound; soaring choruses fires up with a passion forged in the extremes of love and heartache. Lines like ‘we are never going to fade away…’ should sound like clichés, but in Montague’s hands, they simply sound… sincere.
False Horizon offers the album’s finest moment; a frantic, boisterous anthem culminating in the sobering lyric; ‘I don’t want to believe this battlefield defines us’ and the aftertaste of a bitterly love-lorn conflict. Likewise, the ample selection of ballads feel earnest, take-me-or-leave-me slices of heart-bared honesty that paint a refreshingly unfussy take on relationship woes. Throughout, Tales of Flying and Falling succeeds as a very workmanlike album; one that feels like it offers a snapshot of Montague’s life as much as it serves as a collection of songs.
A good degree of credit has to go to producer Dave Eringa too, who oversaw many of the Manic Street Preachers’ classic albums in their 90s hey-days, as well as lending a hand on Kylie’s Impossible Princess LP – which any fan worth their salt will tell you is her best by a mile. Here, Eringa adds a definite grittiness to proceedings, a depth of production that not only sees some surprisingly visceral guitar licks surface from time to time, but overall lends a sense of scale and energy to more than match your average up-and-coming indie troupe.
The album’s second half does trail off a little, the slight whiff of padding lurking worryingly close. Still, Montague’s vocal conviction remains the glue holding the record together – thankfully never veering off into overly-affected man of the world shtick or hollow talent show gloss. Instead, both Ben Montague and his album stand as a rare breed – one not entirely at home in the world of current pop. But maybe that’s the charm of it all – there’s a thread of nostalgia running through Tales of Flying and Falling, one rich with a love of 90s Britpop and love-notes scrawled on the back of cassettes. The likes of Radio 1 may have long-since moved on from this kind of fare, but for those who grew up in the final decade of the last century, there’ll always be that resonance there – and Montague’s album sounds all the better for it.