Glossy fare from the former Ben’s Brother frontman.
Natalie Shaw 2012-03-30
Jamie Hartman is best known as the frontman of now-defunct indie-pop band Ben’s Brother, and he's also been a songwriter for pop stars including Westlife, Emma Bunton and Anastacia. Fans of his former band will find lots to love in his first solo album, III, which presents a mix of folksy jaunts and heart-pounding rock choruses. III has an approachable core of easy-on-the-ear, moreish melodies ready for the radio – each phrase opens and closes sheltered by heavy gloss, each piano twinkle aptly placed to frame the breathy melody lying just beneath it.
But for all its shine this set is deeply lacking edge; verses merely soundtrack the passing of time rather than evoke anything new. Strained warbling and endless "ooh"s take the place of urgency all too often. On Heartwarm, twangy guitars and extended vowel sounds draw out the chorus for time’s sake. Girlwise fares better, Hartman affably sweet in explaining how he fell in love; but Northern Star fails to blossom into the anthem its modest beginning teases at.
While the elements are all present and correct, there’s little trace of personality – Hartman’s unabbreviated flowing thoughts are surely buried somewhere deep beneath the clichés. For all of his sophistication, it’s unclear if a human could actually think in these songwriter-ly tones without being knocked out senseless. One Day When I Am Memory luxuriates before us on the cheese counter, with Hartman crooning like a young Rod Stewart – the gruffness offers up a neat, welcome contrast with a gospel choir’s yearning harmonies in the chorus.
The songs are more personal than Hartman had previously exposited with Ben’s Brother; he’s relocated to America and is far more questioning of everything. It’s about his "40 days and nights in the wilderness," but his concerns are fleeting more than touching. American Hope’s touching approach to our constantly shrinking world should be the album’s centre point, but the sad chords and on-call string section are all too obvious.
With The Script and James Blunt continuing to sell albums by the bucketload, Jamie Hartman should find space to make his mark on the charts and the airwaves. But a little more passion next time around certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.