I guess we live in a world where labels and pigeonholes have become too important. It’s all the fault of us lazy journalists and our attempts to package and market music in neat, easily demarcated bundles. Martin Lucassen’s sophomore album reminds us of the folly of our ways, for even though it happily wears terms such as pop and occasionally folk or Americana on its sleeve, it is surely more than enough to describe it as a collection of slick, well crafted, commercially accessible songs.
So if we abandon the criteria of assigning labels, what can we use as musical yardsticks? Well, we can talk about the textures, the way often a series of layered sounds are woven together to create depth and dynamics, in the same way that the beauty and impact of a water colour painting is in its ability to apply dramatic colours in one place and leave the paper blank in another.
We can certainly talk about the benefits of a clean-limbed approach towards the instrumentation, for with the possible exception of the excursion into edgier pop-rock territory that is Welcome To My World, ironically, Martin’s world is one of musical economy, of subtle detail and of restraint rather than of showing his hand too often. Why be big when you can be clever?
It is this musical elbowroom that he allows himself which allows the subtle mechanics of the songs reveal themselves through the spaces in the top line melodies. Here a wonderfully concise bass run pops through, there sumptuous vocal harmonies pass by just on the edge of the song or more often than not the spaces are filled with atmosphere and anticipation, a tool as powerful as any clever riff or fancy drum fill (take note kids.)
Pop music is done often, but in general not done well. All too often it is happy to sacrifice creativity for formula, to wander very narrow, established pathways for fear of losing site of the pop-fan dollar. Martin Lucassen shows us that if you flip this model on its head, draw in influences from a number of genres, you can write songs, which both appeal to the masses and retain the integrity required by the more discerning listener. Throwaway pop songs that you will want to keep forever!
Even by the second track on the album, Believe, I am reaching for comparisons to such as Crowded House, pretty much the highest benchmark in my world for music able to offer both popular and critical appeal. Beautiful Thing meanders through some hazy, acid laced, bucolic, Beatle-esque soundscapes, Magic Home employs some wonderfully shuffling Americana and New Years Eve is a wistfully reflective letter to himself. It is both diverse yet wonderfully consistent.
And the narrative of the album takes a similar route as the music. Its combination of being both concise and lyrical, gets the message across in clear and poetic terms, is personal but relatable on the part of the listener, it is heartfelt without being clichéd, a modern approach to expressing timeless sentiment.
The best songwriters don’t concern themselves with labels or genres, they understand that it all comes down to just one thing – creativity – and whatever inspirations you take, whichever musical building blocks you use to fashion that melodic vehicle, it is all there to be used and learned from. Martin Lucassen understands this better than most.