The name James Walsh may not immediately ring a bell but his voice is certainly instantly recognisable. Walsh’s group Starsailor were feted as inevitable superstars and rivals to Coldplay in the early noughties. The band even caught the eye of Phil Spector and was one of the final acts to work with the legendary producer as he produced their highest charting single Silence Is Easy. Despite all that early promise, the band gradually slipped from view amidst ever diminishing returns. They are now on hiatus leaving Walsh to embark on a solo career. Walsh’s first release as a solo artist does something a little bit different, however; Lullaby is an album of songs especially written and composed to accompany the release of a forthcoming film of the Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name.
The album is a collaborative project between Walsh and songwriter Sacha Skarbek (Adele, Lana Del Rey). Together they’ve crafted an album of intensely intimate songs inspired by the film script provided by directors Smith and Jones as well as visual references and characters from the film. Palahniuk’s novel centres on journalist Carl Streator’s bid to end the curse of a lethal children’s nursery rhyme, the Culling Song, which has the power to kill. It provides a strong narrative framework that gives the album a sense of structure and coherency.
The focus on imagery and characters from the film mean the lyrics and the storytelling take precedence over the music. Mostly it’s well crafted but understated soft pop, and acoustic guitar and emotive melodies abound. This suits Walsh’s voice, which retains a spine tingling quality and is perhaps more resonant than ever after being weathered by age.
In keeping with the nature of the story of which the album is inspired there is a sense of mystery and darkness speckled throughout. Lullaby Song is full of stark portentous imagery; “Heaven cannot save you from original sin,” sings Walsh, before finally concluding: “Listen to the darkness singing you a lullaby.” The sense of dread is continued on the trance-like mantra of Counting Song and Culling Song, which is perhaps the track most overtly inspired by the film script.
It is all the more disappointing that following these richly detailed and compellingly haunting pieces that the rest of the tracks largely settle for pleasant yet uninspiring melodies. The ponderous, one paced nature of the album gives it a tedious po faced quality at times, though the pulverising rock of Noise-A-Phobe gives a very welcome and jarring change in mood. Walsh sounds enraged and invigorated as he repeatedly intones, “Now the noise is creeping in”. It provides a much-needed shot in the arm.
A number of the tracks here are pretty melodies but nothing more. Making You Love Me and This Town drift by without leaving much of an impression. The forgettable nature of those songs is thrown even more into focus by the final two tracks, which show a degree of ambition and innovation largely absent from the rest of the album. Sticks & Stones is based on some interesting electronic sounds, and closer White Noise is a darkly sinister piece that builds to a mesmerising crescendo of buzzing noise.
Lullaby is certainly an intriguing project, and it is nice to hear Walsh making music again, as it is abundantly clear he is still a real songwriting talent. There is, however, a nagging feeling that this album could be so much more.