This is a puzzle, make no mistake. Mr Hudson, he of the Library and their intimate, cross-cultural chamber pop, has been seduced by the bright lights of an even bigger city than his beloved London.
His music always hinted at an element of hip hop in his upbringing, but Straight No Chaser takes that and shoves it unceremoniously in your face, with wide screen magnification. With the singer’s buddy Kanye West guesting on Supernova, and his own appearance on Jay-Z‘s The Blueprint 3 album, such a move was perhaps inevitable for Hudson – but comes at a price.
The big beats and rich, synthetic arrangements are programmed to uplift, yet the songs themselves carry the opposite message, their troubled author picking over the remnants of a faded relationship. Knew We Were Trouble gets to the heart of the matter, looking across at his sleeping partner and wondering “how did I get here?”.
Learning To Live is even more explicit, the distressed singer asking “where in the world will I go, I don’t know, anywhere but here!” By Instant Messenger he has to step out from the club, retreating from the big beats for a reassuring cigarette.
Yet something is still not right, despite the assertion of the title track that “we don’t waste our time on fakeness”. Instead, plenty of time is wasted on auto tune, to the detriment of almost all the album’s vocals. One of Hudson’s most appealing features with the Library was the honesty of his delivery, communicating every wistful thought and sleight in detail. With all this now drenched in technology the intimacy is lost, and the big beats and shiny synths hammer home their message none too subtly.
Towards the end some respite appears in the form of Library cohort Joy, who sings beautifully along with him over the scattered polystyrene beats of Central Park. But when Hudson gets close to painting an appealing domestic scene, as he does at the beginning of Stiff Upper Lip, he spoils it with the none too subtle chorus, proclaiming that “We’ve never been as fucked as this”. It’s 808s without the heartbreak.
Supernova, for sure, has a euphoric chorus. But while Mr Hudson used to ply his trade in carefully sculpted pictures of everyday life, revealing a certain English charm in tales ‘upon the heath’, he’s now walking through Central Park, where he stays in a hotel with his name above the door, which presumably houses a synthesizer and effects processor.
So, having changed his clothes, it’s a shame to report Mr Hudson’s new hat is an odd fit and, for the most part, it doesn’t suit him.