This review was originally written for The Oxford Student
‘Yorkshire-born, London-based singer combines his captivating vocals with a soulful 60s vibe to create a memorably powerful debut’
Since featuring on Rudimental’s No. 1 single Feel The Love in May 2012, John Newman’s debut album has been the subject of eager anticipation, a hype only augmented by the success of his own debut single Love Me Again, which also reached No. 1. Tribute, his 11-track October release, reproduces the swagger of his earlier work, flaunting his expressive, emotional vocal style effectively. Having collaborated with Steve Booker, the songwriter behind Duffy’s critically acclaimed 2008 hit Mercy, Newman’s rasping voice could hardly fail to deliver.
The Yorkshire-born, London-based singer embraces the same soulful 60s revival vibe as Plan B did with The Defamation of Strickland Banks, but the album is also littered with more contemporary influences; emphatic house piano riffs and energetic, occasionally breakbeat, drumming abound. Newman’s gutsy embellishment of the already powerful vocal line creates a captivatingly passionate atmosphere, most notable on Losing Sleep, the album’s third track. Fervent strings, blaring brass and dramatic choral support complete the backing on most tracks; a suitable arrangement, albeit one comprehensively exhausted by the album’s conclusion, All I Need Is You, the punchy, pleasingly uplifting denouement.
The album’s only significant drawback is its lack of softer, subtler tracks; Out Of My Head being the only welcome exception. Although his vocals are undeniably appropriate for such songs, Newman’s expertise at furnishing rousing, upbeat anthems with his own brand of tuneful wailing leaves little room for variety, and the overall package suffers from repetitiveness as a result.
Lyrically, Newman is also notably unadventurous, not that this is a shortcoming; his distinctive vocals are ideal for emotionally addressing the various painful experiences of relationships. Unadventurous perhaps, but his lyrics are certainly not unoriginal; Cheating, his second single, deals with acceptance of a loved one’s infidelity: ‘If you’re cheating, cheat on / ’cause cheating’s just a thing you do’.
The album’s opener and title track, Tribute, begins with an extensive list of his professed influences, ranging from Elvis to Kings of Leon. Although lacking in variety, his debut offering, with its stirringly evocative singing and emotive hints of nostalgia, puts him well on the way to joining the rich tapestry of musicians he recalls.