First gaining significant exposure as the vocalist on Rudimental's number one hit 'Feel the Love', John Newman has released his first solo album 'Tribute' and, like the title suggests, the album unfolds as a mark of respect for the artists who have inspired him. Harking back to powerful soloists of years gone by, the Settle, North Yorkshire-born and raised singer-songwriter follows the path that has been so readily trodden by recent UK artists and, judging by his success already, Newman won't be the last neo-soul artist to emerge from the UK in years to come either.
As he lists the artists he is dedicating his 'Tribute' to at the beginning of the self-titled album opener, name checking everyone from Ike & Tina Turner to Kings of Leon, Aretha Franklin to Britney Spears, Newman makes it clear immediately that, although his sound owes much to the 60s and 70s, he is very much a product of these times.
Heavy on the strings and pianos, his musical choices on 'Tribute' have been made so as to highlight the power behind his vocals, rather than use studio trickery and club-friendly beats that may result in another successful single or two, but would otherwise result in convoluted album with no real identity. A wise move on Newman's behalf, for his is a voice that does need to be revered. Like a male Emeli Sandé, Newman has cast off his electronic beginnings to impose himself as a 'proper singer' and, like Sandé, his abilities as a vocalist suggest staying power.
His vocals are really the star of the show and the production tends to concentrate on this as much as possible, rarely alternating from a piano or string-based backing, which works well for the bulk of the album but admittedly can get tedious after a while. The album isn't ever exciting really; it is enjoyable, but its uniformity makes it difficult to enjoy as much as Newman and his main album collaborators Steve Booker, Ant Whiting and Mike Spencer would have hoped. The line, "Just another song", at the beginning of 'Easy' is a précis for the core of the album, where he starts small and tender leading to the strident chorus again and again.
Lead single 'Love Me Again' is much livelier and, although the blueprint of quiet-LOUD-quiet aesthetic is still very much the same, at least there is a little something going on in the background. Stacked up against the rest of the album, you can see why he chose this as his first single and the same can be said for follow-up singles 'Cheating' and 'Losing Sleep', both of which bend the mould somewhat, however it is on album closer 'All I Need Is You' where Newman shines brightest. Here, he stretches his vocals with poise, using the gospel backing to elevate his own singing talents to better effect, not needing to rely on an ostentatious chorus to grab the listener's attention. The John Newman on 'All I Need Is You' is the John Newman we need to hear more of in the future, one who doesn't rely on a tried and tested structure and isn't afraid to go against the grain to what the general public might be used to.
With his quiff stiffly horizontal, top shirt button never coming open and frequent flirtations with house music in his spare time, John Newman is very much a man of our era and whilst his soulful refrain can find its roots in decades past, the Yorkshireman is every bit the product of the now generation. He has been able to demonstrate his value as a multi-genre vocalist before, but on his solo effort his output has been hampered down to one area and inevitably this formula tends to get a bit boring for a full album. Taking just his debut album into consideration, he has an air of similar flash in the pan male soloist of recent years, the Daniel Merriweathers and Alex Clares of the world, but the glimmers into his potential show him to be much more adept than he's letting on. He has the talent, not just as a singer but as a musician and producer, to do better than this and, for his sake, I really do hope he does.