Yes, we all know Charlie Simpson. Nicknames and profanity abound, even socio-political vitriol is thrown his way. His is a background littered (many will say tarnished) with sugary pop superstardom in his time with Busted and horn throwing pseudo-metal with Fightstar. Since the latter, he has known and felt comfortable in the honest noise he made. He has never been too proud to hide his influences and has always been one to, at least to some degree, resonate with his demographic of Never Never Land.
That’s what makes this meander off path with his debut solo album, Young Pilgrim, all the more disconcerting. Such is the swerve into the (actually, not very) leftfield of his ever-increasing canon. It’s hard to, at least wholeheartedly, throw the argument of being disingenuous Simpson’s way. After all, every cry he makes and every soaring chorus manufactured, you know that he believes it. Surely that’s enough? Well, no. The issue is what it always has been – convincing others of his emotional plight through his art.
You see, Young Pilgrim is, to all intents and purposes, an MOR rock album in its purest form – a curveball only slightly less potent than if he were to ‘do a Skrillex’. Whether it be Parachutes or stand-out track Suburb, both with their deliberately driving choruses and choral cries of heartache, there’s still that sense that when Simpson is at his strongest is when he is at his most anthemic, and at points it’s clear that, no matter the genre, he has a talent in recreating his angst. So when the rest of the album is littered with downtrodden, synthetic folksiness, it’s all too clear that something is obviously amiss in the world of Simpson – it just resides more in his confusion in who to appeal to. Cemetery stands as the perfect encapsulation of that confusion – it doesn’t know whether to be bouncing along on a Gallagher-like western swing or one in a slew of soft rock choruses. Uniformity then takes over with every song seemingly swinging on a balance of singer songwriter inanity or indulgent acoustic reverie leaving Young Pilgrim to become a document of a confused young man trying to find his true musical path.
And so, the cynicism returns. With his path laid and trodden many times over, it still stands as impossible to really believe in Simpson’s emotional plight. Interviews floated around of our troubadour declaring his childhood love of the likes of the Beach Boys and Neil Young – the albums ‘his dad used to play him’. As an essential adolescent who was obviously bred through more of Blink 182’s dick jokes than Bob Dylan’s political crises, leaving our protagonist to sing us songs of strife that leave little personal attachment or history warranting such an attitude. Leaving Simpson alone to his songwriting devices, a box of inherited vinyl and a comedown does not a nu-folk star make.
In fairness, this incredibly random diversion is an admirable attempt to win over his critics – they seem to be the ones he is obviously so eager to please. But in that unfortunate obviousness lies the perpetual issue. Who’s to say whether it will alienate his adoring public – they are a throng that would most likely happily hang on to his every word without proviso. Maybe this sense of post-adolescent confusion will even help to shine lights on the talents that Simpson himself claims to have influenced this very work. With any luck, more of them will realise the realism in them more than he.