Blandness affects many genres of music, but none more so than that of the solo singer-songwriter. For everyone who has ever picked up an acoustic guitar and strummed those first few chords and got that infectious feeling from creating music, it is easy to see why you could be only several hours of practice and a few notepads of ramblings away from being the next Bob Dylan, or heaven help us, James Blunt.
This is why there are so many singer-songwriters out there. Many are undoubtedly talented; they can sing and play but without anything to truly make them stand out, wave after wave of troubadours playing to the same tune to the indifference of those of us need a bit more from our artists, crowding out the real geniuses stuck in the background.
Tom Rosenthal is one of those rare breeds. A singer-songwriter who, rather than putting three chords in a sequence and singing about the a girl on the underground, pens beautifully understated, intricately arranged and quirky tales about boys who struggle with tinned fish and people who read the Communist Manifesto in the tub to cheer themselves up. He even offers a “Bespoke” songwriting service on his website, with one about Steve Irwin as an example of his range.
A little eccentric, perhaps, but in the same way as Daniel Johnston or Sufjan Stevens use their mastery of song writing to frame a diverse subject matter, Keep A Private Room Behind The Shop, shows Tom Rosenthal as quirky, but immensely talented.
Forgets Slowly is light as air with ukulele strums, but underneath lies a tale of love and loss as poignant as they come. Away With The Fairies is, as the title suggests a little bit nuts: “I love her and she loves me and we love everybody, da da da da da da da except Robert Mugabe.” But it’s little skits like these that give the album a tinge of genius.
Karl Marx In The Bath has Rosenthal whistling in between more strumming, but takes a Bon Iver style lo-fi aesthetic and turns it into a jaunty little pop song about some erratic behaviour and it just gets better from there.
Lights On But Nobody’s Home has an urgent minor-key keyboard introduction, Tom building the vocal into something atmospheric and dramatic that Thom Yorke might be proud of, whilst Take Care shows off his impressive voice over an understated piano.
Most of Keep A Private Room Behind The Shop is short, expertly crafted pop songs. But special mention goes to The Boy – a dramatic six-minute ballad about a young lad who goes on a mysterious journey in a hot air balloon with a mysterious creature, kind of a cross between a snowman and the creatures from Where the Wild Things Are. It’s totally different from the rest of the album, but equally wonderful.
We finish with the brilliant sing-along There Is A Dark Place. As it builds to a crescendo of tinkling piano keys and scattered vocals, Rosenthal repeats “There is a dark place, but we’re not going there” – a mantra to his music that rings true. There is a nod to that place in Tom Rosenthal’s songs, but it’s encased in intelligent, quirky pop that shows glimpses of perfection and a talent that marks him apart from the crowd.