If there was a box that up-and-coming artists could mark, to opt out of the various 'Next Big Thing' awards that are doled out annually, I wonder how many artists would happily tick it. Having just one click to banish the hype and hoopla of being the face in the media spotlight is surely a tempting prospect. Rag'n'Bone Man's runner-up spot (he's only human) in the BBC's 'Sound of 2017' and his double Brit Awards (Critics' Choice and Breakthrough Artist) have thrown a whole extra tranche of expectation his way recently. We should rightly be excited by that voice of his, possessing such a resonant, seismic, brick-sh*thouse, canbelto growl. It exudes the blues. And he is from the deep South (of England).
On his debut album, "Human", however, the blues just sound a tad too beige. Rather than winning Brit Awards, it's as if he's won the X Factor and he's been James Arthured. Some of the lauded cutting edge has been conspicuously blunted. Producers have buffed and polished the tracks to within an inch of their lives, tracks which (with few exceptions) could easily be a platform for a whole invasion of Ronans. Mid-tempo unrequited love "Skin" could easily be a tv-talent winner's song, its big chorus creaking in with familiar tropes, like "When my skin grows old and my breath runs cold, I'll be thinking about you".
Title track, "Human" is the high point. His gruff bass, given unadorned prominence, serves up the lyrics' haunted angst impeccably, adorned by similarly moody heavy beats. It's also the first song, so "Don't put the blame on me" ends up being too prophetic a disclaimer, in terms of where the album is heading after that. "Grace" sounds like an old friend, a comfortable, downtempo version of the non-ravey bit of "Wake Me Up" by Avicii. He sounds most at home on "Ego", where he both rasps and raps, but a silly, superimposed brass section detracts. "Bitter End" has a pleasingly rumbling Massive Attack thump somewhere at the bottom of it and the vocals on "Love You Any Less" deserve less distracting instrumentation and slightly less predictable lyrics.
Rag'n'Bone Man took his name from the classic 1960s sitcom, Steptoe and Son. The essence of that comedy was the clash between the grimy, hard-nosed father, Albert, and the more refined aspirations of the son, Harold. The fundamental contradiction of this album is that Rag'n'Bone Man mostly comes across as Harold, where he should be aiming for Albert.