Monday, October 17, 2011

Matt Cardle - Letters (Sony)

In 2006, when Take That appeared on the final of The X Factor as guest performers alongside soon-to-be-winner Leona Lewis, Gary Barlow bravely called out Simon Cowell in front of millions of viewers, telling him he had a responsibility to create an album worthy of her talents. Cowell, perhaps surprisingly, obliged.

So it’s frustrating that he seems to have forgotten this sage recommendation ahead of the release of Letters, the debut album from deserving 2010 winner Matt Cardle. And it’s all the more frustrating that Barlow himself was responsible for launch single Run For Your Life, a drippy, overindulgent ballad and an instant turn-off as far as the album is concerned.

And aside from a question of quality, Run For Your Life is also very much a red herring, with Letters overall displaying a far more interesting and intelligent offering than its lead single would have you believe. Granted, Letters was never going to be anything groundbreaking, and it was obvious the Pearl Jam enthusiast within Cardle would be all but silenced. But, as a grand pop album with quietly plausible rock leanings, it ticks the box with some conviction.

It’s commercial enough to satiate both the horny housefrau demographic that voted for him in their millions, and the everyman market who’ll sheepishly download it in between pretending they genuinely like the Kaiser Chiefs. But there’s also a certain musicality present which reveals the artist at the heart of it, even if it isn’t laid fully bare in this particular setting.

That said, the unprocessed, orchestral Beat of a Breaking Heart goes a good part of the way there; and even taking Letters for its surface merits, Cardle boasts an enormous vocal and an admirable control, best displayed on the lukewarm-but-likeable All For Nothing, or the genuinely impressive anthemic indie of both Starlight and the title track.

So, that’s Letters. It’s no game-changer; it’s reliable; it’s listenable; and it’s got the raw materials to do great things. But ahead of being any of that, it’s a bombardment of tracks that would have made a better choice of first single than the tepid whimper of Run For Your Life. As cruel as it sounds, getting dropped would be the best thing that could happen to Matt Cardle. While his suicidal trudge through the promotional trail suggests his heart’s not in it, Letters itself denotes a spark of substantial talent. The gift of freedom would turn that spark into something else altogether, away from the foolish decisions of a clumsy label, or a TV show that’s fast becoming its own worst enemy.

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