But fast forward a little while and voila, you have his rather outstanding vocal contribution to Mark Ronson‘s version of The Smiths‘ Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before. As we all know, it was rather splendid.
It was fitting, then, that Love & War’s first single, Change, was debuted on radio as a live track, the backing provided by – yes, you’ve guessed it – Mark Ronson’s brass-centric band. More tellingly, Ronson’s also provided the LP’s production, and you can’t half tell.
Album opener For Your Money wastes no time in exhibiting Merriweather’s distinctive tones, his mixed English-Australian heritage lending further idiosyncrasies. As a ballad, it’s a bold choice for ice-breaker, and yet meets its remit with flair.
Impossible soon meets Change-fuelled expectations, ticking every box from funky bassline and subtle brass stabs to tortured vocals and catchy lyrical twists. The comparisons to Amy Winehouse are inevitable, and it would appear to be down to Daniel himself whether they help or hinder.
Chainsaw sees the man nod more towards DJ Format than his producer, the Hammond tinkling and thickly applied groove hinting at a breathless Abdominal rap that never materialises. Instead, it’s honey-sweet melodies and not a little angst: “Giving myself to you / Is like giving myself to a chainsaw.”
Similarly, Cigarettes retells a tale of regret with aplomb, its toned down instruments and clever yet matter-of-fact lyrics rendering it not too unlike a slowed down Ballad Of John And Yoko. Apart from, obviously, no Yoko. And no John either, for that matter.
Funnily enough, Sean Lennon provides the guitar for next single, Red; a track that builds slowly into something with an air of timelessness about it, Merriweather’s powerful voice soaring from reigned in to set loose. Once more, there’s sufficient heartbreak to make a lip quiver, but also a political statement put more subtly than in Change.
Creating a buzz around the album is its inclusion of Water And A Flame, a duet with Brit School graduate and Grammy darling Adele. Modelling itself on classic R’n’B collaborations of years gone, it’s an album highlight that sees two talents combine and contrast to great effect, and will surely grace the singles charts before long.
Another feature of Love & War is its thoroughly enjoyable closer, You Don’t Know What Love Is, in which Merriweather harks back to his days as a Melbourne busker, his strong vocal and folky guitar provoking scenes of a performer on a sunny street corner.
To all intents and purposes, this album is of the same calibre of the much-vaunted Wino effort Back To Black – not least because of its near identical, Ronson-led production values. Whether or not there are as many killer singles on show here, though, is debatable.
Moreover, such parallels with a modern classic that is still fresh in the memory will probably not help propel Merriweather into the stratosphere. They will, however, ensure that this commendable effort will bore safely into the mainstream consciousness and provoke further interest in a real talent.