With the sheer number of earnest singer/songwriters who have been thrown at us in recent years it would be easy to dismiss the whole genre as suffering from overkill. But to do that would be to miss out on some real talent out there. Joseph Arthur for example. He’s been around for some time now, but never really broken through in this country, although if you watch any American trash telly you’d probably recognise older tracks In The Sun or Honey And The Moon.
So here we are at his fifth solo album, Nuclear Daydream, which is intriguingly being released on the same day as Let’s Just Be, his first album with his band The Lonely Astronauts. This UK release has finally come around a year after the Americans were able to get their hands on it. Some of these tracks have been hanging around for a while, such as lead single Enough To Get Away. Standing out as the most upbeat and downright lovely pop song on the album, it’s reminiscent of Karl Wallinger and World Party at their best.
Arthur has a versatile voice which takes on a different tone with every song he sings, and while on Enough To Get Away it’s a laidback smooth drawl that invites the listener in, he croaks his way through the harmonica-infused You Are Free, and employs a Bowie-esque style to When I Was Running Out Of Time. So at least the album has some diversity on it, which perhaps is where a lot of his contemporaries fall down. Other highlights include the well-paced Black Lexus and the almost gospel appeal of Woman.
When looking for comparisons, John Lennon is an easy reference point. But tracks like Electrical Storm more readily bring to mind the work of The National. The National and Arthur’s music share a similar sombre mood, from the synth sounds used in Automatic Situation to the engaging title track that closes the album.
Whether or not there’s room for him in the already over-crowded singer/songwriter market remains to be seen. This is a superb collection of songs and the quality of the writing and arrangement can’t be doubted. But what’s not so obvious is whether he’s really going to stand up and get the attention he deserves. This album could be a slow-burning, word-of-mouth success or it could just be added to his already crowded back catalogue of albums that are turning Arthur into one of the best-kept secrets around.