Friday, March 05, 2021

“Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted”: an ode to lost love in lockdown

Passenger’s thirteenth album release, Songs for the Drunk and Broken-Hearted, is a warm and intimate reflection of the universally recognisable state of grief that we suffer from the aftermath of heartbreak.

Mike Rosenberg (known by his moniker, Passenger) recorded the LP of ten songs at Black Crow Studios in Brighton shortly after ending a relationship back in 2019. Each track is a glimpse into the “fragile window” – as he referred to his post-breakup experience – of loss, and serves to gently manoeuvre us, step by step, through varying emotions and unique, character-driven scenarios stemming from heartache. 


I say “gently”, as although these snapshots are lyrically articulated, at times, in exquisite detail: “With your red-wine teeth and your smoker’s cough, Suzanne, I feel you’ve had enough” – Rosenberg sympathises for a downtrodden drunk during Suzanne – at no point do any of the songs included in this album serve to musically inspire a moment of original insight or revelation. Save, perhaps, for one exception: ‘London in the Spring’ is a beautifully plaintive track that thoughtfully counterpoints a cello against a medley of evocative strings and warm brass. The effect is of quiet yet cathartic pathos, driving home the message that “life is ok” – a gladdening way to round off a ten-track divulgement on the lingering woe of lost love.  


Not to say that other songs included in the latest Passenger release are inferior, by any means. Quite the opposite. Rosenberg clearly had fun dreaming up new ways to bring characterful variation to these intimate stories of heady, broken-hearted lovers. Whether by way of introducing a burst of bluesy piano, adding a dash of atmospheric drum beats, or including a smattering of mariachi trumpet (Sandstorm, for this reason, stands out with its sultry yet cinematic soundscape), Passenger’s signature, folk-inflected indie-pop style is diversified by an assortment of creative musical elements that are bound to keep listeners pleasantly entertained from track-to-track. You can’t fault this album for having personality.


This should come as no surprise. Rosenberg worked hard to make sure that Songs for the Drunk and Broken-Hearted would resonate with fans in light of the pandemic. While the original release date was set for May 2020, it was pushed to 8th January 2021 to accommodate for the inclusion of three new songs written during the first lockdown. Notably, Sword from the Stone, which pays homage to the recognisable struggle of resisting the urge to draw comfort from the memory of lost love – difficult to succeed in overcoming while dealing with continued social isolation. 

A new version of the track, co-produced by Ed Sheeran and titled “Gingerbread Mix”, has also been released as a radio single. It's a more upbeat, ballad-like variation of the original; a far cry from the infinitely more touching, acoustic version that Rosenberg used to kick-start the Passenger Isolation Live Stream series back in April from a cosy spot near his fireplace at home. He similarly live-streamed an exclusive performance in celebration of the album’s release from the Royal Albert Hall, a treat for fans who were quick enough to secure a ticket last month.


And, I guess, that’s what followers of Passenger have always loved about him: his accessibility. Even when Rosenberg shot to fame in 2012 with “Let Her Go”, the single that earned him the prestigious Ivor Novello Award, the Brighton-born busker never let this soaring accomplishment detract from his self-effacing attitude to success. “I’ve only had one hit, so that’s a bit embarrassing”, he teased at Newport Folk Festival in 2018. “And it’s called Let Her Go, not Let It Go from Frozen. Amazing how people get them mixed up. She’s a Disney princess, and I’m an Englishman with a beard”.


Liz Thompson was perhaps a tad harsh to diminish Songs for the Drunk and Broken-Hearted with a mere two stars on The Arts Desk. I reckon that David Cheal hit closer to the mark with his three-star review on Financial Times: “Passenger is doing nothing new. But in the midst of a long hard winter, there is something comforting about his sweet, sad, sentimental songs”. Quite agreed. Rosenberg wasn’t seeking to attempt anything revolutionary here; simply, to create something that would resonate deeply with his fans – and to have fun!


Songs for the Drunk and Broken-Hearted is accompanied by a theatrical set of music videos, which are definitely worth checking out if you’re curious about becoming better acquainted with the imagined set of protagonists who help to centralise the focus of this distinctly Passenger-y open letter to lonely souls. As for me? I’ll be reverting to Passenger the next time I find myself with nothing to do on a cold, wet Sunday morning. Nothing too bracing, and the perfect album to stick on for some easy listening.


Listen to Songs for the Drunk and Broken-Hearted on Spotify, or buy a copy of the LP recording at

Megan Rough 



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