Charlie Simpson

Long Road Home

Written by: TL on 17/08/2014 18:44:44

Being among the bigger Fightstar fans on planet Earth, it should be no surprise that the primary thing I wish from British songwriter Charlie Simpson is another record from the project that remade him from ex-teen idol after his breakthrough with the infamous Busted, into a credible alternative scene persona with some muscle to his sound. In the past few years however, Fightstar have been taking time off while Simpson has made his way as a solo-songwriter, and for all I can figure out, this venture being originally seen as a side-project is the only reason I can come up with, for why the London resident's fame is not as widespread as a Dallas Green or a Ben Howard, because judging from both Fightstar's recorded effort and Simpson's solo debut "Young Pilgrim" from 2011, the ex-popstar's consistency has been near-frightening, prompting the question for this year's recently released "Long Road Home" to be: "Can he really keep it up?"

Compared to "Young Pilgrim", "Long Road Home" start on a lighter note with its title track, opening with steady drumming and a driving exchange of bass and piano and giving me almost a Fleetwood Mac type of vibe. This impression is soon complimented by "Comets" - which channels the brighter moments of Ben Howard, or perhaps even Mumford And Sons, via it's happy, clean acoustic chords, hand claps and backing "Hey!"'s - and by the country-esque "Winter Hymns", which brings Ryan Adams to my mind when the keys and strings come in to supplement the finger-plucked acoustic in the second verse. This opening triplet acts as a nice tour of the subtle diversity Simpson brings forth overall on "Winter Hymns", and incidentally also showcases the types of songs he's ended up writing: Both "Long Road Home" and "Comets" are easy-listenable, chorus-centric tunes, the kind of which will serve well as welcoming backdrops for driving trips or doing stuff around the house on an off day, but which also feel perhaps a bit too light to make a deeper impact. Fortunately these are complimented by a track like "Winter Hymns", which feels more elaborate building from the simple acoustic guitar in the first verse, to the richer arrangement in the second that showcases just how capable a composer Simpson is, with each element appearing in the kind of well-timed manner that feels like it draws you onwards and inwards into the song at each moment when you're ready to make that next step.

Along with the comparable "Emily" that follows, new listeners will also find introduction here, to Simpson's tendency of aiding his musical atmospheres with expressive metaphors and visual descriptions that tie in with the thematics hiding beneath the surfaces of the songs, hinting that there's more to hear for those who want to dig deeper than just the obvious catchy melodies. "And there’s a chapter that I keep on trying to read, but the pages stick and crumble where your fingers used to be" is a line that keeps sticking out in the former for instance, while both songs also give as good opportunities as any to notice that Simpson is one of the best sounding singers out there at singing harmonies with himself. Something which, upon my wondering out loud how he pulls it off live, prompted my colleague LF to suggest that he should bring his brothers on tour to do them, which struck me as such a good idea that it is hereby passed on to any members of the Simpson family that should chance upon this article. (Charlie's brothers Edd and Will sing and sang - respectively - in the bands Union Sound Set and Brigade and have similar types of voices).

Moving towards the middle of the record, "Long Road Home" gets increasingly better until culminating with the standout songs "Haunted" and "Would You Love Me Any Less", standing at each end of the spectrum the record has to offer. "Haunted" has a bouncy beat that reaches for your attention immediately and quickly makes it round to a shamelessly catchy "oh oh oh" refrain that's nigh on irresitable in its simplicity. "Would You Love Me Ane Less However", is a whole other level of quietly spectacular, building again on elegantly sentimental acoustic plucking, to a chorus posing the highly relatable question of how it would change a loving relationship if one part was handicapped by age or illness or some similar ailment. It's the kind of obvious thing that seizes a hold of your heart long before your ears or your mind catch onto what is happening, and the orchestral lift that introduces an anthemic resolution to the chorus towards the end sounds like exactly the kind of thing that will send shivers down your spine whether you hear it in your headphones or, if you should be so lucky, in the live setting.

While things never get boring on "Long Road Home", they do become noticeably looser following the centrepiece of "Would You Love Me Any Less". "Ten More Days" and "Blood" pass by with distinctly less impact, even though the horns and interwoven vocal lines towards the end of the latter are worth listening for as well. The feeling that the more loosely resolved cuts have been deliberately sequenced towards the end persists however, which honestly isn't such a bad thing, because it feels like a modest and realistic choice to allow impatient listeners to get what they've come for instead of skipping around, while more ardent fans can stay the course all the way to the closing "Another Year", finding curious details to appreciate along the way, and enjoying the highly Bon Iver-ish falsetto harmonies that thrive upon delicate horns, strings and yet again a finger-plucked acoustic before the record rounds off.

Without a doubt, "Long Road Home" is far from a revolution, and fans of Fightstar's cinematic epicism as well as young music fans out to find vessels for their frustrations, will look in vain for what they're after on Charlie Simpson's solo material. Though in many ways conventional however, Simpson's songwriting continues to sound a sort of wholesome that it's impossible to not recognise once subjected to closer scrutiny, and it does continue to have an energy to it, albeit a more contemplative and tempered kind, which likely appeals as much to those of a calmer and perhaps more settled disposition. Regardless of all this however, the intricacy and superb sense of timing that characterises both singing and composing should be plain for anyone who bothers to listen - which is doubly impressive when considering that this is a man who was once wholly assimilated into the corporate pop-industry. It makes one wonder if Simpson feels pressed to consistently prove that he can employ the techniques he's no doubt learned in service of good, honest songcraft instead of the other way around, which is exactly what he continues to do with "Long Road Home". So basically, if there's ever announced such a thing as "An evening with Charlie Simpson", starting with his solo work and moving on into the best Fightstar material, rest assured that I will be on the first plane over.

8

Download: Would You Love Me Any Less, Haunted, Long Road Home, Winter Hymns
For The Fans Of: City And Colour, Ben Howard, Ryan Adams, Bon Iver
Listen: facebook.com/charliesimpsonmusic

Release date 04.08.2014
Nusic Sounds

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