Lewis Capaldi: Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent review – full-force, ugly-crying pop

(Virgin EMI)
Singing dolorous ballads in a style that makes Adele look stoic takes some doing, but Capaldi’s honesty is appealing

Few artists have quite such a disparity between their music and their public persona as 22-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi. On social media, he’s as strenuously bluff and self-deprecating as this debut album title, expressing bafflement at his newfound fame (his single Someone You Loved spent seven weeks at No 1) and larking about on his Instagram stories. In song, however, he’s a man utterly battered by a breakup, singing every dolorous ballad as if wrapped in a duvet on the sofa.

It starts brightly enough: Grace is a superb single, driven by a Mumford-style hoedown thump and a convincing gospel energy to Capaldi’s ascending, imploring chorus notes. The way he drives his voice up further still at the euphoric climax, exalting his wavering lover through the very melody, is really heartstopping. But this pitch in the last-chance-saloon clearly doesn’t work, and the rest of the record is bracketed firmly in the tiramisu-for-dinner phase of being dumped.

How much this appeals will depend on receptivity to Capaldi’s voice as much as your romantic history – he makes stadium blubsmiths like Adele seem like a model of stoic resolve. In the lineage of the other white cod-soul names such as Rag’N’Bone Man, James Arthur and Tom Grennan, who are currently propping up major labels, emotion is telegraphed through forced hoarseness and deliberate falsetto cracks – the ugly-crying of pop vocals. There is no subtlety, originality or range: the piano playing reverts to a Someone Like You plod too often, and there could have been some more piquant Scottish lyrical details such as “tonic wine” and his “lively dafty” ex.

But there is some solid songwriting here, and a nobility to the sheer honesty of the lyrics. Forever has all the easy resolving cadences of Keane, while the chorus of George Ezra-ish Hollywood tumbles down to its conclusion with an equally satisfying predictability. And if Someone You Loved was effective at the disbelieving despair phase, Lost on You makes an elegant follow-up, Capaldi singing as if through the clarity after a jag of crying: “I hope you’re safe in the arms of another / because I couldn’t take the weight of your love.”


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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