In order to spice up his latest solo LP, Angus Stone has thrown in myriad instruments amongst his usual, slow-burning acoustic folk. Horns, flutes, steel pedal guitar – all play a part at one stage or another. The one instrument he needs most, however, is the voice of long-time collaborator and sibling, Julia Stone.
As a duo, Julia’s sweet vocals contrast seamlessly with Angus’ gravelly delivery. It creates a sound better than the sum of its parts. When one of these parts is taken away, however, a sense of blandness eventuates. Apart from a few highlights, this blandness is saturated throughout Broken Brights.
Critics Of Stone often target his lack of lyrical depth. He and his sister’s biggest hit, Big Jet Plane, is the most obvious example. Such criticism will be leveled at this album, too. It’s as if Stone has taken the album template for every 1970s singer-songwriter and applied it in full. There’s not much else besides the standard subject fare of locomotives, cowboys and bedding women.
All of this might work if Stone could complement it with a playing style that is somewhat original. Unfortunately there are only so many slowly strummed intros and reverberating electric solos one can take. Even when Stone does attempt to break away from his I-IV-V chord progressions, the result ends up being something like Apprentice Of The Rocket Man, a rather bizarre foray into space folk.
Stone’s voice also grates when he attempts to emulate a Bob Dylan-like croak. In the right hands – The Tallest Man On Earth‘s There’s No Leaving Now is a case and point – this approach can be effective. More often than not, however, it falls flat.
Thankfully the album is somewhat redeemed by a duo of commercially viable singles. The title track is a dark, brooding journey reminiscent of several tracks off Down The Way, Stone’s last LP with his sister. Oddly enough, this is trumped by Wooden Chair, a track highlighted by its carefree whistle chorus and some well-placed background hollering.
As for the remainder of the album, there’s little to recommend. And it runs at over 60 minutes, making it a tough listen when the aforementioned highlights have come and gone. Kudos must go to Stone for attempting to break out on his own. That said, most will be hoping he reunites with his sister for future releases.