Sunday, July 25, 2021

Tom Odell’s Latest Album ‘monsters’ is Scary Good

It's here, it’s bold, it’s ground-breaking. ‘monsters’, the latest album from English ballad master Tom Odell, was released on the 25th of June 2021. 

Known for his acoustic piano abilities that have gained his comparison to a modern Elton John, Odell takes a fresh approach to songwriting and production on his new album. One example of this is his incorporation of hip-hop samples and distorted vocals into several tracks.


The album addresses both the societal monsters of COVID-19 and current politics and the personal monsters of a breakup.  It takes us on a journey of Odell's experiences spanning the past year and a half. The overall message, though, is one of hope. So, pack your bags, and get ready for one hell of a journey!


The opening track, 'numb', immediately shows that Odell's sound is evolving with his career. Notably, it does not fit into a specific genre box.  The combination of a heavy hip hop beat, and minor chord progressions evoke a sense of anguish. It is reminiscent of how it feels to hit rock bottom. This feeling is emphasised by the bridge's powerful build-up of synths. The song's most powerful line is “I hold my hand over the flame / To see if I can feel some pain”. 


Following 'Numb', the theme of personal struggle is continued, as is the sonic influences of pop and hip hop. The next track is 'over you yet’, which depicts the attempt to move on from a breakup. It perfectly meshes the 'old' Tom with the 'new', featuring soft piano chords atop a driving beat.


In the interlude track, 'noise', Odell shifts his focus from personal to societal struggles. He provides a heartfelt commentary on the media's manipulation of current events, particularly the pandemic and the global political riots. 


The lines "I tell my secrets to stay employed” and “We're only toys, it's only noise" particularly stick with you.


Yet another shift in mood from melancholy to carelessness takes place in 'money', which arguably provides the catchiest hook and chorus of the whole album. Its message is simple and clearly expressed in the line "Thank the Lord for my Gucci and Dior": consumerism is alive. 


Both 'tears that never dry' and 'monster v.2' return the focus to Odell's personal trials. The former features Jake Bugg-esque finger plucking on acoustic guitar. The latter functions as a metaphorical resolution to 'noise', with its triumphant lyrics, "You're just a monster and I'm not scared".


It's here that we reach the end of Odell's pre-COVID experiences. The track 'lockdown', with its shorter lyrical phrases which create a sound similar to that of Justin Bieber's 'Peaches’, perfectly represents the frustration of the pandemic. 


In stark contrast, 'lose you again' brings us the intimate poetry of Odell's classic sound. Its reverb filled melody, paired with profound lines such as "Sometimes you gotta tear apart / Two broken hearts to put 'em back together" creates an ethereal effect. 


But leave it to this lyrical legend to keep mixing things up. Following the dreamy 'lose you again' comes the song that features the best beat drop of the album. 'fighting fire with fire' is a scathing commentary on COVID-19 and vaccinations. We can definitely see a potential rap remix in this track's future! 


The theme of lockdown continues to be explored in 'me and my friends', the song that follows the album's second interlude 'problems'. The latter track's distorted vocals potentially represent the voice of the 'monster' of which the album is named. 


It is at this point in our musical journey that we reach the wistful lullaby tune ‘by this time tomorrow’. This swiftly shifts to an expression of melancholy however with the chill-provoking ‘streets of heaven’. In an interview with Apple Music, Odell explains the song’s meaning:


Streets of heaven’ is about a school shooting, written from the perspective of someone that was killed. Obviously, it’s an incredibly delicate subject of which I have no experience, but I try to remain non-judgmental and empathise and imagine what that must be like. I really hope that people don’t think I’m meddling in things that I don’t need to, but I think as an artist I always have the right to empathise and observe.”


The song’s ominous and powerful lyrics speak for themselves: “Another shot, wasted life / Another friend to walk beside.” 


As the album nears its close, Odell lightens the tone with ‘don’t be afraid of the dark’, which features room noise, finger plucking and a Beatles-inspired chord progression. Finally, the album concludes with ‘monster v. 1’, a slightly softer version of ‘monster v. 2’.


Odell’s 2018 album ‘Jubilee Road’ was always going to be a tough act to follow, but we are blown away by the positively triumphant return and genre shift sparked by ‘monsters’. In short, it’s safe to say that not all ‘monsters’ are scary.


Nickie Finnegan 


Image: Netti Hurley, Press


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