November 27, 2008
Record Review: Songs for You, Truths for Me
Songs for You, Truths for Me
2008 | Interscope
“Have we come this fa-fa-fa to find a soul cliché?” Elvis Costello once sang in exasperation. Yes, once again we have. James Morrison surely has the raspy voice a blue-eyed soul man needs, and a three-chord descent punctuates the end of every weary line. The piano, more Bruce Hornsby than Ian Stewart, chimes along as the singer yowls like he means it: “Y-o-u make it real for me.” The whole thing – vocals, lyrics, arrangement – is grindingly familiar, but that’s how soul music should be, right? It’s not about inventiveness; it’s about whether you feel it. No one ever accused Joe Cocker of being original. He sounded like Ray Charles, and that was fine.
Morrison, by contrast, sounds like a bad Bruce Springsteen imitator. UK critics will compare any emotive singer with an acoustic guitar to Coldplay, but there’s no chord-change magic or offbeat poetry here. The resemblance between Martin and Morrison ends at their unsettling physical similarity. And as a blue eyed soul singer Morrison is no Mick Hucknall, Michael McDonald, or even Darryl Hall. Rather, he falls into a direct line of descent from Bryan Adams: just another gravelly yob who hasn’t even cloaked his clichés with a contemporary twist. Like a hobbyist who plays Vivaldi on the original Baroque instruments, Morrison churns out, with each track, a grainy Photostat of something we might once have liked. Even his song titles are shoplifted: “This Boy,” “The Letter,” “Wonderful World,” “Better Man.”
Because he arrived in a denim jacket rather than a poet shirt, the UK music press fell all over itself praising Morrison’s debut. Clearly, he was “tougher” than James Blunt, like that’s some achievement. Morrison sounds tough in a butt-your-head-against-the-wall way as he sings about the unopened letter from a lover, wonders why it always rains on him, or pleads in his dyspeptic growl, “Please give me something, ‘cause someday I might know my heart.”
If he did, would it be worth the wait? Morrison’s search for authenticity fails to interest listeners who own the real thing on vinyl. At least Bowie’s Young Americans and Costello’s Punch the Clock were deliberately “plastic” soul, giving their retro-cheesy arrangements enough ironic distance to make them interesting. The defensively-titled Songs for You, Truths for Me can safely be left with Morrison’s first CD, Undiscovered.
by Robin Mookerjee