Saturday, 15 June 2013

Review: 'Momentum' by Jamie Cullum

by Tim MacBain

Not the Jamie Cullum we know and love, but definitely an original, individual and well thought-through album.

Jamie Cullum’s latest studio album, Momentum, was released on 20th May, two days before my music exam. Therefore, I refrained from getting it on the release date, for I knew that if I did, I would listen to nothing else and completely ruin my performance in the aforementioned exam, much of which is based on aural perception. Those who know me are aware of my obsession with Jamie Cullum’s music, and thus my devouring of his new album was inevitable.

Or so I thought. I bought the Deluxe Version (never again with any album, almost completely pointless), and settled down a few days later to listen through. I was cripplingly disappointed. The opening track, The Same Things, starts hopefully, with an infectious drum ostinato, but fails to build to a climax; the complete lack of instrumental backing other than the drums until about half way through fails to give the first track much unity. Cullum’s voice is strong, but not quite strong to carry an entire song through with little more than backing singers and a raving organ solo. It all picks up with the Bond song-like opening of The Edge of Something, a powerful bass riff booming out; this kind of stuff Cullum was moving towards throughout The Pursuit (his last album, 2009), it reminds me of Music is Through. It really would make a pretty decent Bond song; think of the opening credits of Casino Royale, they would go very well alongside this track. Everything You Didn’t Do is reminiscent of everything I loved about Catching Tales (2005), like 21st Century Kid. It’s quite a strong single, but the sheer force of the repetition and insistent clapping in the background detracts from what is one of the greatest assets of any Jamie Cullum album, his piano playing. The shouting also fails to impress; that in Mind Trick in Catching Tales added to the track, but here it feels force and out of place. When I Get Famous is exactly what I wish Cullum would avoid; it’s very like Our Day Will Come (Catching Tales), quite arbitrary and, frankly, irritating to listen to. Love for Sale could have proved the turning point in the album, Cullum returning to very familiar territory with a Cole Porter cover. However, the over-production of this track and the utterly pointless, if very skilful, addition of the rap section makes this, actually, the low point of the album.

However, then we swing from one extreme to the other. Pure Imagination is the pinnacle of Momentum, a sublime reimagining of the song from the old Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Here, the effects work; the slightly distant tone of the piano with ethereal strings in the first half of the track is simply stunning, and the solo in the middle shows just how far Cullum has come since the days of Pointless Nostalgic (2002) and Twentysomething (2004); he can no longer be considered a flashy, fast jazz pianist, that is merely one of the many arrows in his quiver. The interpretation is so complete and well thought through it is impossible not to love this track upon first hearing. It is here, rather than the previous track, that the album picks up. Anyway is a little manic, but is similar in tone and joyous backbeat to Mind Trick. Sad, Sad World shows possibly the greatest deviation from the norm for Cullum, and although (again) being over-produced, would work exceptionally in a live situation, as the Live from Abbey Road version featuring Laura Mvula on the Bonus Disc shows. Take Me Out (Of Myself) reminds me of Photograph (Catching Tales) with the repeating piano motif, albeit without a piano solo that’s quite as virtuosic. Save Your Soul is lovely; not traditional Cullum, but broadly similar to the likes of Wheels and Mixtape from The Pursuit. Get A Hold Of Yourself is so like London Skies and My Yard (both Catching Tales) I could cry with joy, and You’re Not The Only One, if you didn’t know Cullum’s voice too well, could easily be mistaken for a Coldplay ballad.

Therefore, it really isn’t all bad. In fact, more than 50% of the album is rather good. I guess the bit that I’m not too fond if is the lack of influence of jazz. This is, in a nutshell, a pop album. The jazz standards have disappeared, and as have the majority of the piano solos, much to the album’s detriment. This isn’t the Jamie Cullum I have known and loved listening to since the age of about 12/13.

But, saying this, I ignore one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a new Jamie Cullum album within my own mind; it usually takes about 6 months for me to like it. In the case of Twentysomething, which I now think to be the most perfect and rounded album ever produced that isn’t a ‘Greatest Hits’, I hated it for about two years. To get to know The Pursuit, it took cleaning my room whilst having it on in the background to become accustomed to it! It is definitely the most original of all Cullum’s albums in terms of the actual tracks, with only two being covers (interestingly, each marking the high and low point of the album). He is being more adventurous, even more so than The Pursuit, and has not done what we expect him to – rather, he has shown that he is the master of his musical choices, and should be lauded for it.

Finally, as I sit here listening to the album again, I realise that it is actually rather good. I am very much enjoying listening to it. And that, in itself, is an achievement for a Jamie Cullum album, to make me like it within two months of buying it.

So, overall, although I wish there was more jazz, less over-production and, to be frank, a couple more tracks, the (customary) skill, originality, Pure Imagination and Get A Hold Of Yourself make this album, for me, quite something. A 7/10, methinks.

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