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 sa.
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 the record is bracketed firmly in the tiramisu-for-dinner phase 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 stoic resolve. In the lineage 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 pop vocals. There is no subtlety, originality or range: the piano playing reverts to a Someone Like You plod too ten, 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 the lyrics. Forever has all the easy resolving cadences Keane, while the chorus 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 crying: “I hope you’re safe in the arms another / because I couldn’t take the weight your love.”