Tom Williams and the Boat Too Slow Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A work-in-progress debut that mixes alt-folk dynamics with stirring drama.

Mike Diver 2011

It’s tempting to tell Tom Williams and the Boat to give it up now, before any hopes get too high, as with a name like that… But then the memory kicks in and recalls a certain band with a stupid name from Sheffield who did alright. And it’s not like Noah and the Whale or Florence and the Machine are particularly striking monikers for pop music forces. So, Williams and his flotilla: you never know, Wembley might just be calling.

Okay, Wembley might be stretching the fabric of reality rather – but plenty of Too Slow will appeal to anyone caught up in the nu-folk mania spreading through the mainstream following award-winning turns from Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons. "Literate UK guitar pop" is how this collection is summarised in PR speak, but attention shouldn’t be focused entirely on the lyrics at play here – they’re not always that great.

24 sees our protagonist raise the things he still does today that he did a few years back, when a child, referencing archaic consoles and a particular brand of trainers – which might have sounded good in our man’s head, but is categorically boring subject matter given blinkered self-reflection’s ubiquity throughout the pop canon. While sentimentally sound to the right listener, it’s a fairly mundane opener.

Further flashbacks pepper Concentrate, talk of messaging online friends through MSN. It’s actually about suicide bombers, rather than the singer’s personal point of view, but somehow paints a narrow worldview. Of course, nobody expects a debut album to be full of every experience the artist is to experience across their career, but Too Slow does seem rather insular on occasion. Not that it’s without moments of magic, mind, and instrumentally powerful throughout.

Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet is a wonderfully understated number, mixing a devilish humour with no little wit in its heartbroken lyricism. Train Station Car Park recalls Frank Turner at his most jovial, albeit with loneliness and isolation at its thematic core – its jaunty harmonica ensures that everything’s delivered in an upbeat manner. Get Older is a cracking stomp-along that manages to conjure comparisons with the under-the-radar-but-brilliant Joe Gideon and the Shark, as well as Lift to Experience and, just a little, The White Stripes – select as appropriate based on your depth of rock’n’roll’n’soul knowledge. Strong Wheels could be Radiohead without the fancy effects, and Denmark is one of the most beautiful alt-folk numbers to pass these ears for several releases.

It’s work-in-progress fare, then. But what debut isn’t? If Williams and company capitalise on the highs here, and develop their better traits further, album two is going to be a Brit Award contender based on current trends.

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