Album Review: Matt Maltese – Bad Contestant

By on Tuesday, 26th June 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Matt Maltese Bad Contestant album coverIn an era where Noughties landfill indie has been usurped by this decade’s overproduced shiny pop, it’s difficult to make a name for yourself if you don’t sound anything like that. The pages of TGTF are littered with artists we love who are anything but conventional. One of the things I most enjoy about South London-based singer/songwriter Matt Maltese is his choice of words. You’re unlikely to find someone else like him on the top 40. If you’re a Morrissey, Leonard Cohen or Divine Comedy fan and you’re used to hearing brutally honest, self-deprecating and often satirical lyrics sung by a crooner, this debut album will be right up your alley. Like those established artists, Maltese is marmite.

‘Bad Contestant’, Maltese’s debut, is a pop album, but one that will make you laugh and ache about that four-letter word called love in equal measures. It begins with the toe-tapping ‘Greatest Comedian’, which compares the woman he loves to “the highest quality hardwood door” and “Jesus” who he’s heard “was a very handsome girl”. The problem? He misses her because she’s so very far away. And so it begins: Love can be an addiction and it doesn’t lead to the best choices, does it? In previously released single ‘Nightclub Love’, he chronicles his blinded-by-love stumblings around the apple of his eye in his most hated of places, a loud and sleazy nightclub. On the jaunty ‘Guilty’, he admits he’s being used by a woman who is already spoken for. Somehow, he always winds up back with her, even at the expense of his own heart, leading to his eventual fate of loneliness.

If it’s all for love, Maltese will gripe about it, but he’ll suck it up in the name of want and desire, even if it’s only temporary. He covers heartbreak equally as well. On ‘Less and Less’, Maltese comfortably scoots into the role of the sad songwriter at the piano, showing himself to be the best 21st century peer to Burt Bacharach. He croons, “you should take yourself / see the daylight and the change that spins / though I ain’t sure I’ll ever feel nothing / I’ll feel settled in a simple sense”. It’s the quiet acceptance that their relationship is over, but he’ll never be the same having loved her.

On the self-deprecating side of things, he is also quick to point out his lowly status on oddly catchy title track ‘Bad Contestant’ – “I’m a dead end, a budget hotel / I’m pretty good at feeling sorry for myself / I’m a deck chair / Your cheap underwear / A bad Christian who never goes to prayer” – before wrapping things up with the immortal line “I ain’t much but baby I could impress you / They say the underdogs are always the best ones”. Like Stornoway’s ‘Love Song of the Beta Male’, Maltese is not the stereotypical macho man who wants to throw his weight around and show off. He might be hard on himself as he was on the aforementioned ‘Nightclub Love’, but he also accepts that he’s better off being the quiet man in the corner.

As if to prove he’s more than a lovesick hack who does everything wrong in his relationships, Maltese’s album ends with two doom and gloom numbers. Early single ‘As the World Caves In’ shows Maltese at his most Morrissey-esque, savouring the last days on earth with the woman he loves and with sweeping grandeur: “oh girl it’s you that I lie with / as the atom bomb locks in”. It’s a heavy-handed way to end the LP with ‘Mortals’, its weightiness about leaving Earth behind seeming out of place with the rest of the LP.

This is not to say that the rest of ‘Bad Contestant’ is light. It’s an album that can make you swoon and nod with agreement, that is if love is your poison and you can relate to the feeling of being swept up by it. If you can’t, this album will be a tough go. Should you open your mind to Matt Maltese’s world – a world with twinkly piano and his droll observations on love and life – don’t be scared, and embrace something different.

8.5/10

Matt Maltese’s debut album ‘Bad Contestant’ is out now on Atlantic Records.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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