Tom Odell’s sophomore album, Wrong Crowd, has finally arrived, three years after the release of his debut, A Long Way Down. The twenty-five year old singer-songwriter became a household name when he won the Critics Choice award at the Brits in 2013, but he only really cemented himself in the hearts of the nation in 2014, when his cover of the Beatles’ ‘Real Love’ was selected as the soundtrack to the John Lewis Christmas advert.
Personally, I’ve had a turbulent relationship with Tom Odell’s music from the get go; following the release of Long Way Down, I wrote a particularly scathing review of the album in a ‘Most Overrated Albums of 2013’ feature, one of my very first journalistic endeavours. I told Tom to “Grab some Kleenex” and “man up”, labelling him “dull and predictable”. Admittedly, I may have been overly critical, because since then I’ve listened to the album so much that it now ranks as one of my most played records on iTunes. Although I initially found his voice grating and whiny, with time I came to appreciate his distinctive croon, and found myself relating to his songs about lost love and heartbreak in the same way that I regularly find myself dancing round my room, shouting Taylor Swift lyrics into my hairbrush.
When I saw him live at the O2 Academy in Sheffield in 2014, I was blown away by his stage presence. It’s refreshing to see an artist play their own instrument, and as Tom sat at his piano I was impressed by how his songs sounded just as clean and emotive as they do in the recordings. I’d go as far as to say that Odell is one of the best artists I’ve seen live. A particular highlight from that show was his cover of Willie Dixon’s 1954 blues classic, ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ (first recorded by Muddy Waters), which raised the roof and demonstrated his impressive vocal range.
On the new record, his range is shown off in the song, ‘Daddy’, whilst ‘I’m Still Getting Used To Being On My Own’ has a theatrical quality which reeks of Elton John. These are songs that exude a newfound confidence; gone is the timidity and shyness that emanated from A Long Way Down – gone is the young man whose father phoned up NME to complain about the rating they gave his debut. Tom says it best himself when he sings “Woaaaaaah, something’s changed” in ‘Silhouette’, a track whose opening score sounds like it walked right out of a Disney film. Odell himself said of the new album, “I wanted the songs to sound big and dramatic; big strings and melodies emphasizing the songs further – rich in musicality and holding nothing back”, and Wrong Crowd is definitely dressed up to the nines in theatricality.
That’s not to say Odell’s trademark sensitivity has dissipated, or the emotional scenes are just a pretense, though. His voice still wavers, threatening to break in the delicate and sweet album closer ‘Somehow’, and his lyrics still feel genuinely honest, whether he’s singing about hanging around with the wrong crowd in the album’s titular track, or feeling inadequate in ‘Jealousy”: “I’m sorry that I’m sometimes so insecure / with every day I grow a little more sure of your love”. ‘Constellations’ is an incredibly pretty construction, where Odell successfully pulls off falsetto.
The album is best when it attempts to do something different, though. Tom proved he could pull off ballads many times over with A Long Way Down, so it’s nice to hear some more upbeat numbers make it onto this record, ‘Wrong Crowd’ could actually incite moshing at a Tom Odell gig, which is a sentence I never thought I’d write. The tracklist skilfully integrates the downbeat crooners with the more Radio 1-friendly ‘poppy’ tracks, which shows Odell’s awareness that he needed to do something different with this second album, without wandering too far from the tracks he laid with his first.
Undoubtedly, the show-stealing song is ‘Here I Am’, which is about returning to a lover after you’ve broken up: “I thought I was over you / I put out the flame / Said tonight would be different / I wouldn’t need to play your games”. It sounds pretty similar to New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, but maybe that’s because of the claps which punctuate the rhyming lyrics. The chorus packs more of a punch than the New Order track though, with the repetition of “I’m going out my head for you darling” lending the song a distinctively 80’s vibe. It’s incredibly catchy, relatable (who hasn’t mistakenly ended up in the arms of an ex after a break up?), and cements Wrong Crowd as an album which was well worth the three year wait.