Album Review: Tom Chaplin – The Wave

By on Wednesday, 12th October 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Tom Chaplin The Wave album cover2016 has been an all around tough year. In my personal life, I don’t know anyone who’s managed to get through this year with nary a scratch. However, as the saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? ‘The Wave’, Tom Chaplin’s first foray into the music world without support from the band who helped make him famous, is solid proof of this. I think it’s safe to say that collectively as a group, we the media questioned whether Chaplin had it in him to pen a compelling album on his own. As the voice of the award-winning, highly commercially successful pop group Keane, no-one could touch him. But he was singing the songs of his equally (and depending who you talk to, even more so) talented bandmate, the Ivor Novello award-winning Tim Rice-Oxley.

Like many other rock stars, Chaplin has struggled with drug addiction but thankfully for us, he sought treatment before it was too late. On ‘The Wave’, he’s chosen to tackle his personal demons in song, and for all the world to see. It’s a vulnerable position to be in. And one going against what is all too familiar Englishman stoicism that he himself admitted to the Daily Mail 3 years ago that existed between him and Rice-Oxley offstage. In his audio commentary of ‘Hardened Heart’ available on ‘The Wave’ portion of his Web site, Chaplin admits confronting himself was “…an incredibly uncomfortable process for anyone, let alone a closed off, avoidant character like me…‘Hardened Heart’ documents that transition between imprisonment and liberation, and the hope that it can continue.”

While it may not make a whole lot of sense to those have never suffered depression, Chaplin’s decision to go public with his mental health battles actually has a two-fold benefit. One, by accepting and confronting his own struggles, it’s an effective way for him to see the extremes of the before and after, reminding himself of how low he was, how far he’s come and what a better place he is in now. Two, he’s an incredible, visible role model, providing hope to those who might otherwise not seek professional help but now will. The photo accompanying the story in ‘I Remember You’ reflects Chaplin’s desire to look back with compassion at the old version he used to know and he’s left behind after intensive, healing psychotherapy. Oddly, he’s chosen an all too gay saxophone solo – think of the one in Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ – to mar the opportunity of a true introspective moment. The title track closes out the LP, and in a fashion not unlike ‘Sea Fog’ concluding Keane’s ‘Strangeland’, described by producer Matt Hales as “a prayer for peace”.

Tom Chaplin Hardened Heart press shot

‘The Wave’ opens the album with the cinematic grandeur of ‘Still Waiting’. Chaplin says, “If there is a narrative of going from dark to light through the course of my record, then ‘Still Waiting’ is firmly rooted in the darkest place”. Mournful strings and otherworldly echoes suggest a foreboding, a descent into darkness before light. In ‘Worthless Words’, Chaplin wanted to document a 3-day binge in January 2015, after which he resolved to turn around his life and fight. The title represents an addict’s repeated apologies eventually become accepted by loved ones as empty promises, and his singing at the start is calm, yet clearly regretful. Chaplin notes the lyric “a soft sweet whisper says, ‘careful where you tread’” makes him think of his young daughter and what she might have said to him before the point of no return.

Returning from the brink can’t have been easy, but this album also provides a way for Chaplin to thank the family and friends who supported him on his journey back. In the melancholic, gentle ‘Hold On to Our Love’, he offers a hand and an olive branch to his long-suffering wife who thought she was going to lose him to addiction. The calm before the storm, the momentous ‘Bring the Rain’ sees Chaplin yelling into the dark sky, determined he’s up for the challenge. On ‘See It So Clear’, he’s joined with a choir to add further oomph and bombast to this resolve.

What might strike as most surprising is that the most overt, upbeat pop songs on ‘The Wave’ seem out of place and seem unnecessary. It isn’t because of their positivity, a feeling that runs through the entire album, but on other songs with slower tempos and more weight. You get the feeling Chaplin was trying too hard to be commercial, to have to write songs that Radio 2 would be willing to play. There’s nothing wrong per se with first single ‘Quicksand’, but it’s definitely not the album’s finest hour. With indelicate, irksome lyrics like “you get up and suck it up / you keep rolling along”, it feels awkward that Tom Chaplin’s beautiful voice has been reduced to singing a song like this. An injection of staccatoing synths into the chorus of ‘The River’, too, jars the listener out of what was a sweepingly gorgeous tune.

As a reminder of just how powerful Chaplin’s expressive voice is, ‘The Wave’ is just about perfect. While some questionable moments prevent it from being entirely beyond reproach, the showcasing of his voice alongside his personal journey back from addiction is priceless. Above all, ‘The Wave’ will encourage the conversations about mental illness that need to happen. And that can only be a good thing.

8/10

‘The Wave’, Tom Chaplin’s highly anticipated debut album and his first album without Keane, will be out this Friday, the 14th of October on Island Records. Watch the trailer for the album below. He’ll be on tour starting next week in the UK to promote the new LP; all the dates are listed here. Our growing archive on Tom Chaplin’s solo doings here on TGTF, including my interview with the man last week, can be found through this link.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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