Impressive, but perhaps too un-showy for a mass audience that likes big voices and big...
Garth Cartwright 2008
This album, the debut from East London's Leon Jean Marie, is one of the most hotly tipped of 2008. LJM is a black British singer who has recently travelled the UK as part of the Wonky Pop Tour – an outing aimed at providing a stage for new pop-flavoured acts who write their own material (as opposed to X-Factor winners).
You might have heard the first single, Bed Of Nails, on Radio 2. This song, produced by Mark Ronson, has a winsome flavour reminiscent of Ray Davies at his most lyrical. And there's no denying that the professional and personal cohort of Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen has an ear for a melodic hook, making it the album's stand out track. But while nothing else here quite matches Bed Of Nails it's interesting to listen to a black British singer who is obviously influenced by the likes of Radiohead and The Kinks, while Amy and co do their best to sound American.
Leon's lyrics draw on a period he spent homeless, abusing drugs and losing friends. The backing music is largely electronic and sparse; creating a minimalist quality which is both pop and electro. Leon has a decent, if unexceptional, voice and while often signing of love and loss rarely seems emotionally engaged in the material. This may be a ploy to attract the listener to a music quite hypnotic in character, or a reflection of his limitations as a singer and writer: one track, Beg, sounds very like Seal.
Initial listens suggest Leon lacked enough material for an entire album, but Bent Out Of Shape develops a distinctive, if uneasy, character after repeated plays. It's impressive, but perhaps too un-showy for a mass audience that likes big voices and big gestures.