Monday, February 29, 2016
Album Review: Phil Cooper - Things I'll Never Say
You might not know it from reading the reviews that we publish here, but hard rock and heavy metal are not my first love when it comes to music. It is where I have my contacts in the 'industry', and it's where I have often felt most comfortable in recent years, but the music that I actually have the deepest connection to is the pop/rock sound of the mid 90s, when I was musically coming of age. Many of those albums, by bands like Tonic, The Wallflowers, and others are still the ones that top my list of favorites. I never gave up on that music, but what was easily available changed, to the point where I don't even know where to find such music anymore, if it indeed exists.
That brings us to Phil Cooper's new album, which might seem like an odd choice to be covering here, but really shouldn't be. In a better world, I'd have far more albums of this style to talk about.
We get started with the chiming chords of "Let It Fall", which reminds me of how infrequently clean electric guitars are used. It's probably not accurate to call the rhythm a shuffle, but it moves along at a solid pace, and lets the backing vocals play a prominent role. It's not as shimmering as power pop, but it's one of those songs that has a sunny appeal. "Sigh" takes more of a folk approach, and when Phil's vocals strain in the bridge, it has an air of "Rubber Soul" to it.
The protest song "I Don't Have a Voice" has a video making the rounds on YouTube, and hits the sweet spot. The electric chords ringing out are melancholy to match the tenor of the lyrics, while the melody hits just right. It reminds me of the good ol' days, just without as much rock volume pumped in to make it radio friendly. It's a really good song, one I can see making some impact (although I'm not up on British politics to comment on the message).
The middle of the album sees some stretching, with horns accenting "Old Wounds (Feel Like New Wounds)", and strings dotting the superior "To The Unknown Loves Of My Life". A slightly bigger production would have made the drama hit even harder, but it's a song that uses the coloring to great effect, and stirs up a tune that feels important because of the scope. There's a balance between folk and pop going on through much of the record, and that hinders the momentum. The more pop leaning tracks are able to endear themselves with suitable energy and strong melodies, but the folkier tracks don't have as much melodic focus. They aren't poor songs, but they're the kind that are written more for the songwriter than the audience.
"Things I'll Never Say" is a DIY album, and those are always commendable. It takes a lot of effort and courage to make a record and release it on your own, without having a pipeline reassuring you that you're on the right track. So yes, there are some rough edges and some songs that could have used a sharper focus, but the end result is still an album that has charm. It's an enjoyable way to pass some time, and sometimes that's really all we're looking for out of an album.