Aqualung - Words And Music

Nick Lewis 07/08/2009

Rating: 3/5

Aqualung (singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Matt Hales) is perhaps best remembered for his 2002 hit Strange and Beautiful from his debut, but this is in fact his fourth album. He sounds just like I remember.

In essence, Aqualung is in that grand tradition of Beatles-esque piano pop, the sort of thing that even ex-Beatles seem to get wrong. You get a piano, you get a pretty melody, you put them together, and you get something that's not quite as good as The Beatles. Hales manages to sound like all the main players in this field, but with something missing. This record is like Ben Folds Five without the quirkiness, The Eels without the grit and the strangeness, like Rufus Wainright without the oomph.

That's not to say that this isn't a lovely record, because it is. It's just that it's not quite as good as the output of some of Hales' peers. Parts of it genuinely sound like early Wilco ballads, and that can never be a bad thing. There's an awful lot to like about this album in its gentle, easy accessibility. The problem is that everything is bathed in a soporific hue. A lot of albums have a dreamy, pretty, final track that serves as the perfect full stop to preceding nine or so songs. This album is essentially ten final tracks. Each one could finish the record.

The root of the problem is Hales' voice. He has a very pleasant tone and even when he can't quite hit the high notes it comes across as charming. Many tracks feature an overdubbed choir of falsetto Hales', and it's a sound that serves him well. But he never shifts out of quiet and lovely mode. Some of these songs could work wonderfully with a more powerful singer, someone like James Brown, someone who could really bring out the uplift in Hales' uplifting melancholy. As it is, everything just drifts on by in a lovely haze.

This is a very solid album. There's nothing remarkable about it, and there's nothing particularly bad about it. The arrangements are unsurprising, although the second track must be praised for its juxtaposition of drifty piano ballad and boogie-woogie. The lyrics are standard fare, lots of talk of hearts and falling and being alone, but no lines stand out as being bad writing. It's a fine record. Just fine.

Aqualung Official Website