Good songs and strong lyrics undone by overblown production.
Lou Thomas 2009
A pair of EPs, The First and The Second – released in 2007 and 2008 respectively – suggested that Kid Harpoon was destined for big things. The singer, real name Tom Hull, expressed himself with the ragged passion of a young Nick Cave over lively gypsy indie-folk. Riverside, from the second collection, stood out in particular.
Unfortunately, that great song is absent from Once, as is the raw edge exuded by so much of Hull’s early material, like the bucolic Bob Dylan via Larrikin Love energy of Milkmaid, from his first EP.
The songs on Once, while of a generally high standard, typically lack that certain spark the very best singer-songwriters can infuse into any song. Hull recorded the album in LA with veteran producer Trevor Horn, and this seems to have been an erroneous move. Given the personal, pared-down nature of his material, enlisting a producer like Liam Watson might have been preferable to Horn’s bigger, shinier approach.
Stealing Cars is jangling West Coast rock fare, and sets out our Kid’s stall for the rest of the album. “Put your hands up if you feel like you’re in love,” sings Hull while casual guitar riffs, seemingly stolen from Razorlight’s In the Morning, accompany him.
Colours is next, a dramatic and slightly overdone Celtic folk-style number, where a sentimental mandolin and orchestra accompaniment is coupled with an interesting vocal approach. Hull borrows David Byrne’s unusual method of accentuating certain words within each sentence. Burnt Down House includes more heart-on-sleeve lyrical flourishes. “I watched you crumble, our house burnt down, memories light up the sky,” emotes Hull to a backing track Fleetwood Mac would have approved of, circa Rumours.
Going against the grain of the record, Flowers by the Shore is a lively moment and Running Through Tunnels, by turns foppish and gnarled, is like a bizarre collaboration between Mika and The Last Shadow Puppets.
Once has good songs and Hull is a talented lyricist, but the occasionally overblown production does spoil things. It must also be mentioned that while happy couples may enjoy the themes of Once, cynical singles may find the constant evocation of love (lost or otherwise) and relationships nauseating.