It's never easy to review a solo record without referencing an artist's previous incarnations, and with Paul Smith's debut offering that's made much harder because several of the songs on this record wouldn't make it as b-sides for that band.
From the opening 'North Atlantic Drift' and 'The Crush and the Shatter' you get a sense of why Smith couldn't record these songs with Maximo Park. They're far more suited to the delicate treatment afforded to them on Margins, developing a sound that exposes their deep-rooted emotion majestically at times, but painfully at others. More to the point, they're an incredibly strong opening and I won't deny made the whole album a much more exciting prospect than I expected.
And therein lies the main disappointment for the record. The most infuriating thing about this record is that just as it seems to be gathering momentum, along comes a song to stop it dead. Third track 'Improvement/Denouement' is a slow-paced, minimalist acoustic effort that seems to get lost before it even gets started, while 'While You're In The Bath' sounds like it was thought up in one, and it should have stayed between Smith and the rubber duck.
There are moments throughout where songs briefly come to life, only to be lost to awkward crooning or lacklustre lyrics, whether that be the lament of 'This Heat' or the ambling 'Alone, I Would Have Dropped.'
Sadly those songs that do so clearly illustrate Smith's talent and offer the brightest moments - 'Strange Fiction' or the majestic 'Our Lady of Lourdes' for instance - are lost between tracks that fade into the background before they've reached the second verse.
That's not to say the slower tracks don't work - 'The Tingles' and closer 'Pinball' feel as carefully crafted, intense offerings as anything Smith has written. It's just that there are too many moments where the songs simply don't connect with the listener.
I want to make clear there are some really great songs on the record, and had Smith chosen to release a shorter, punchier EP without the acoustic, pseudo-folk filler I'd be buying my friends it as a demonstration of some terrific song writing and this review would be very different.
It's a record with real moments of beauty, driven by imaginative song writing and the delicate literature-cum-lyrics that Smith has built his reputation as a songwriter on. Yet the lasting feeling is one of unfulfilled potential, with moments of warmth lost amid the bland tones of a war-weary poet.