Here’s an idea – let’s ban the term ‘singer/songwriter’. Otherwise, review after review of the debut album by Jeremy Warmsley will describe him as a ‘singer/songwriter’ and he’ll be lumped into the sensitive troubadour market of James Blunt, Paolo Nutini et al. And that really cannot be allowed to happen.
For the 22-year-old half-French, half-English Warmsley is a whole different kettle of fish. Yes, he sings. Yes, he writes songs. But that’s where the similarities end. Imagine, if you will, a more restrained Rufus Wainwright collaborating with Hot Chip. Or Surfjan Stevens covering Berlin-era Bowie. That’s the head-spinning mix of genres we’re talking about here.
A woozy string section introduces the opening track Dirty Blue Jeans, and it’s quite an experience. Warmsley’s vocal similarity to Rufus Wainwright is obvious, but he also brings to mind the fragile quality of Graham Coxon. Where the song really stands out though is in the multi-layering of sounds that Warmsley piles on – there’s that string section, a rolling piano, all manner of keyboards, and even a dirty guitar riff towards the end. It’s a compelling introduction.
This sort of invention is all over the album. The single I Believe In The Way You Move, probably the album’s most commercial moment, throws trumpets, handclaps, tinkly keyboards and a wistful female backing vocal all together to create a sensual hymn to a lover. Modern Children starts off all summery and breezy, before somehow turning into a dark and off-kilter version of none other than Interpol. The massed vocals and orchestration of Jonathan And The Oak Tree even recalls Arcade Fire.
Lyrically too, The Art Of Fiction is a treat. Standout track 5 Verses tells the surprisingly uplifting story of Jack and Mary, a couple meeting in a karaoke bar (“Jack was singing Lola in a long black wig”) and is absolute poetry. I Knew That Her Face Was A Lie meanwhile wins the award for most attention-grabbing opening verse to a song this month: “When I was young I saw a couple make love on a French TV, their hearts were an ocean of need. The height made my nerves bleed, and I wished it was me”. Just beautiful.
Sometimes, there’s just a little bit too much packed inside The Art Of Fiction. Warmsley may be classed as a ‘lo-fi bedroom artiste’ but he throws all but the kitchen sink into his songs. Every so often you yearn to hear a more stripped-down Warmsley, as there’s the nagging suspicion that it’s the sound that’s all important here rather than the melody. There certainly won’t be any mobile ringtones on offer here, but then again perhaps we should be eternally grateful for that.
And yes, sometimes it does drop into pretentiousness a bit, as song titles such as The Young Man Sees The City As A Chessboard may suggest. The closing Hush makes for a disappointingly monotonous end, all atmospheric keyboard noise, and Warmsley intoning “Don’t let the flame go…”.
Yet these are minor quibbles, as if it’s given some time, The Art Of Fiction will prove to be one of the most rewarding listens of the year. In a year that’s shaping up to be a cracking one for debut albums, Jeremy Warmsley has produced one of the best. Just don’t call him a singer/songwriter, remember?