Hudson has grown as a pop artist, but without losing his roots.
Tom Hocknell 2009-10-13
Londoner Ben Hudson, now shorn of his Library, follows the intrinsic English ska/pop charm of his 2007 debut album, A Tale of Two Cities, with this slick, Kanye West-produced collection. The rapper’s involvement is initially unsettling, but West’s championing of talents beside his own is far more successful here than at awards ceremonies.
It’s testament to his creative strength that Hudson’s own style prevails over any other contributions. His debut’s characterful junk-shop anomalies have been ironed out, with electronic elements brought to the forefront, making way for a more expensive-of-feel affair. Despite the occasional ‘what does this button do?’ moment, it works with effortless grace. The songs, driven by modern RnB beats, are refreshingly unfussy, scattered piano motifs complementing a very un-American doubtfulness in Hudson’s lyrics. Association with big names is not for shrinking violets, but Hudson’s unflappable self-belief serves him well. London and LA have seldom chimed so effectively.
Fears of Auto-Tune overkill are allayed following its effective use on the opening, arena-conquering Supernova and subsequent single White Lies. Thereafter studio tricks are tempered, with the album dropping a gear, as wistful romance and talk of the ‘hood collide. It does grow harder to love as it progresses, but as on his debut, Hudson’s songwriting rewards repeated listening.
Stiff Upper Lip, a phrase which probably prompted West to reach for his English-to-American dictionary, captures the guilt-laced spirit of the morning after, with Hudson subverting the well-worn ‘seize the day’ philosophy by following the celebratory “we’ve never been as f***** as this” with “life’s too short to get caught on the shady side of the street”. If there is fault to be noted it’s that this, along with other songs, fades too soon.
West and fellow rapper Kid Cudi elbow irony, and accusations of ego-stoking, aside to compete for microphone duties on Anyone but Him, but despite the pseudo-gospel of the sublime Learning to Live, simplicity prevails. Straight No Chaser ultimately serves as evidence that Mr Hudson has grown as a pop artist, but without losing his roots.