Once, the holy grail for all aspiring bands and solo artists was MTV. Then, slightly more ethically questionable, it was to have your music used in an advertisement. Nowadays, the quickest way to reach a big audience seems to be a spot on a television show.
It’s how Snow Patrol broke America, after Chasing Cars was used in an episode of Greys’ Anatomy and it’s arguable that Sigur Rós would still be a cult Icelandic band known to only the hippest of the hip if it hadn’t been for the BBC’s Planet Earth. Now Ohio’s Joshua Radin is reaping the reward, with every track from his second album Simple Times being used on a TV show or film, weeks before the album’s release.
It all started for Radin when his old college friend Zach Braff heard a demo tape and immediately featured one of Radin’s songs in an episode of his TV show Scrubs. Since then, he’s featured in US shows such as the aforementioned Grey’s Anatomy and Without A Trace, and was even chosen to sing at Ellen DeGeneres’ wedding to actress Portia DeRossi earlier this year.
It’s easy to see how Radin has become so successful. His songs are easy to listen to, unobtrusive and catchy, sounding at times like a downbeat version of Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz. And while Simple Times may not be the most challenging or inventive album you’ll hear all year, it does what it says on the tin quite nicely.
Radin’s songs tend to be about relationships, be they happy and successful ones (I’d Rather Be With You) or disintegrating unhappy ones (One Of Those Days). His voice is probably more suited to the latter, with One Of Those Days making for a stunning introduction; beautifully wistful and melancholy, it’s reminiscent at times of Iron & Wine.
The production is a bit more beefy here than on his debut We Were Here, so long-term fans may find the new sound a bit distracting. There’s certainly nothing as fragile and affecting as Winter or Today from his debut, but Radin’s equally at home with upbeat pop, such as Vegetable Car, a sweet number about pining for an environmentally conscious girl who “wears Lisa Loeb glasses” and “drives a vegetable car, diesel, Mercedes, green, two-door”.
The Californian singer/songwriter Meiko contributes some affecting harmonies to the soaring Sky, while country music legend Patty Griffin duets with Radin on You’ve Got Growing Up To Do, another wistful break-up number. Both numbers work beautifully, with neither guest vocal neither dominating the song nor fading into the background.
Sometimes it’s true to say that Radin dips into blandness, as epitomised by meandering tracks such as Free Of Me and Friend Of Mine. They’re not particularly bad, but just make for pleasant background music, rather than anything deeper. Also, he may be a talented lyricist, adept at describing the troubles of the human heart, but he often slips into cliches, such as Free Of Me’s “go now, don’t look back, my life’s come off its tracks”.
Yet mostly, Simple Times is a fine example of Radin’s talent, and there’s enough evidence here to show that he’d have been a success with or without the vast amount of television shows using his work.