Gary Jules is, of course, the man who claimed the Christmas Number One in the UK with a radical version of the Tears For Fears classic Mad World. It’s a brave person who impinges on the public consciousness with a cover version, and some sections of the press are already writing off Jules as a one hit wonder.
This would be a shame, as the unwieldily-titled Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets showcases an assured, tasteful writer with a collection of songs, which while not life-changing, are still a cut above the average.
Don’t approach this expecting an album full of Mad World clones though. The hit single has been tagged onto the end of the album and actually feels quite out of place amongst the folk and light rock on display here. Influences range from Simon and Garfunkel (especially on the opening Broken Window) and Bob Dylan to more contemporary figures such as the late Elliott Smith.
Don’t expect the Michael Stipe comparisons to stop just yet either. The vocal likeness to the REM singer was noted by many at the time of Mad World’s release, and tracks such as the breezy Americana of DTLA could almost pass as an out-take from Out Of Time or Reveal. Although these mid-tempo tracks are good, Jules is at his best on the quieter, more fragile numbers, such as the gorgeous Something Else.
The only problem lies with Jules’ lyrics. Although intelligence should be encouraged, there are times when he almost drowns in a sea of his own imagery. The songs which work best are when Jules puts on his storyteller’s hat, such as the touching The Princess Of Hollywood Way. However, he seems so keen to wrap up his songs with meaning that some just end up as incomprehensible.
Take Umbilical Town for example, which concerns “a surftown hero who’s got one foot in the garden where the neon-lighted cocktail glasses bloom and they built you a model airplane”. It is awkward lyrics like this that prevent the listener from making much emotional connection with Jules’ characters. In fact, it’s telling that the one song that packs an instant punch is the one that Jules didn’t write – Mad World.
All in all however, Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets should see Gary Jules fit nicely into the lucrative David Gray/Damien Rice market. There’s nothing here to suggest that the success of his number one will be replicated by one of his own tunes, but lovers of introspective folk/rock could do worse than to invest in this.