Richard Walters has been a constant source of musical genius in his native Oxford for some years now. When his band Theremin released the single Minor Planets on local label Shifty Disco it seemed only a matter of time before someone picked up on his way with a tune and his wonderfully delicate voice.
Sadly it wasn’t to be, and in the time between Theremin’s disappointing collapse and the release of The Animal, it appeared that Walters was destined to become a local legend and nothing more, despite having secured a publishing deal with Warner Chappell and receiving a fair bit of attention after one of his songs was used on CSI:Miami (All At Sea – which appears on this album).
Given a bit of luck, it’s wholly possible that Walters’ considerable talents could finally reach a wider audience with the release of this album, for it’s fairly safe to say that Richard Walters has never, ever been referred to as “The Animal”. The evidence provided by this album suggests that the necessary ingredients to be a wild man are simply not in him. Stripped of a band, Walters now plies his trade as a singer songwriter, and what he lacks in muscle is more than made up for with his remarkably delicate voice.
Comparisons to the likes of Jeff Buckley or Thom Yorke are not entirely without foundation, as Walters is in possession of a voice that can break hearts within seconds. Pitched in a high register and shot through with an aching quality that few vocalists can pull off convincingly he is far from a wannabe emulator, and indeed, he uses his greatest asset to devastating effect throughout The Animal.
Single Brittle Bones opens the album and is glorious in its minimal approach. A basic guitar line forms the basis of the track while interjections from glockenspiel, piano and a gorgeous female backing vocal round the track out. Over all this Walters drawls his rounded vowels and tale of heartbreak with an almost whispered vocal that nearly cracks under the emotion. It’s a strong opening to say the least.
All At Sea is bubbling with sadness that is far from brooding, but is instead oddly uplifting. Artfully layered strings push his plaintive vocals to new heights, and it would be a cynical swine whose heart didn’t skip a beat when Walters soars up through the scales during one of the song’s most emotive motifs.
It’s not all sadness and heartbreak though. The Daniel Johnson cover True Love Will Find You In The End suits Walters perfectly as he takes the positive message within Johnson’s lyrics and adds weight and hope to it. It may sound thoroughly depressing initially, but those rays of light peek through the clouds clearly by the end of the track.
Ultimately these songs of heartbreak and disillusionment showcase an unbelievable vocal talent, and if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing then this is the perfect album. It is. however, a little hard to get away from the fact that, at times, Walters relies a little too heavily on his voice and neglects to write anything more than a terribly basic, and occasionally uninspiring, musical accompaniment. The Animal is also at times far too one paced; it’s sad that Walters hasn’t mixed it up a little. That said, there is no denying that The Animal is a very accomplished, affecting record, and one that should give Richard Walters the recognition he so richly deserves.