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Album review: Tom Grennan - Lighting Matches

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Bedford born and bred Tom Grennan’s first album, Lighting Matches, boasts an impressive 14 tracks and a collaboration with Chase and Status.

The first track on the album, ‘Found What I’ve Been Looking For’ is perhaps what propelled Grennan into the Indie spotlight. Pre-released as a single, its opening guitar riffs are indie-anthem ready, building into a climatic, catchy chorus. The second track, ‘Royal Highness’, exudes the same feel – with another James Bay esque sing-a-long chorus, another ready made indie hit. The continuous syncopated guitar adds an element of funk, which is elevated by the gravel in Grennan’s voice, effortlessly injecting soul and feeling into every song on the album. The opening lyrics, “Come be my lover, be my getaway car, come be the new string on my broken guitar” fit perfectly with the energy of the song, leading into the chorus of “You’ll be my royal highness”. ‘Barbed Wire’ is reminiscent of Leon Bridge’s more ‘retro’ sound, with the brass and upbeat backing and lyrics.

 Lighting Matches also showcases Grennan’s versatility, with slower tracks such as ‘Run in the Rain’. The stripped strings backing and pace show off his incredible range and ability to portray such emotion through his soulful, gritty voice. Similarly, ‘Lucky Ones’ again showcases Grennan’s range and passion, with the stunning high note of the chorus “Sail away, we are the lucky ones”. With a chorus lyrically similar to Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’, “won’t you lie with me, lie with me”, the track highlights Grennan’s lyrical ability, particularly in the opening line, ‘I was made of nothing, you were made of gold’. The acoustic backing of ‘Something in the Water’ also provides a contrast, and the track’s lyrics “There’s something in the water calling my name” show an inescapable love, “My mother said you’re growing up fast”, “I’ve fallen in love with you”.

The lyrics of ‘Abroad’ encapsulate the feeling of being lost, as if in a foreign country, and putting everything on the line, “If it’s cool then it’s cool, won’t fuck around no more”, “I put my tie on your door, If the ship goes down I go down with it”. The opening lyrics, “Without your makeup I’m confused, ought to think you look amazing but I’m not sure I do” and “What kind of man am I, drunk on my own supply, I should get over myself” suggest this internal conflict. The brass adds to the energy of the choruses in the song. ‘Lighting Matches’, the album’s suitable title track, is the most stunning lyrically, especially the lines, “We’re all lonely people, lonely people, alone” and “Tell me which part of you is missing, we all got parts that need fixing, it’s just a catch of being alive”. The lyrics of the song unite those who are searching for “something more than this”, the underdogs, which perhaps relates to Grennan’s story, after an assault, finding a hope in one’s flame, in his case music, “lighting matches, making a shelter for a flame, til fire catches”. It opens with acoustic broken guitar chords, which allows the layers of the song to build into a catchy, sing-along chorus, complete with ‘nah nah nah’, a song clearly destined to be played for crowds.

 ‘Sober’ describes an intoxication that comes from a person, with the opening lyrics, “The way you dance it’s clear you want all eyes on you”, “I just can’t stop from indulging my lean eyes on you”. In the once again climatic chorus with brass and an infectious beat Grennan asks “Why do you stop me getting sober on your love?” The next track, ‘I Might’ is a song about freedom, “I go where I want to go, take it fast or slow,’ ‘don’t want no one messing up my bed, fucking up my head”. However, this changes, “when you look at me like that, I might”, showing that desire can compromise freedom.  Furthermore, ‘Make ‘em Like You’ has a consistently catchy beat, with more self-depreciating lyrics, opening with “more than likely, you don’t even like me but I just can’t walk on by”. Its effortless coolness is furthered by the repetition of ‘They don’t make ‘em like you no more’.

‘Little by Little Love’ lyrics are particularly self-confessional, with the repetition of “you saved me though, little by little love”, the idea of finding salvation in another, “I saw my devil coming in, never thought I’d do such bad things”, “All my demons came whispering, telling me, carry on”. The vulnerability of the lyrics are felt by the acoustic backing and the middle of the song, where Grennan sings the chorus A Capella; the song almost stops and hones in on the pure emotions exhibited through his soulful voice. The same sense of vulnerability can be felt in ‘Praying’, “I’ve been praying to find my way”, “Til I’ve found what I’ve been looking for”, which cleverly ties together ‘Found What I’ve Been Looking For’, both lyrically and in meaning.

 The penultimate track on the album, ‘Secret Lover’, is laden with Arctic Monkeys esque electric guitar distortion, which ignites the danger of the lyrics, “underneath the sheets, maybe we can meet”, “I know that there’s another, be my secret lover”. We see a different side of Grennan lyrically, ‘We’re young and having fun, tell me how this could be wrong’. Grennan’s final solo track on the album is ‘Sweet Hallelujah’, which revels the showcase of his voice, the glorious held notes of “Hear the angels sing Sweet Hallelujah”. The lyrics are again about finding strength, “So take my hand and lead the way, find your courage, find your lion”, subtly tying itself back to the meaning of ‘Lighting Matches’.

Although many of the songs on Lighting Matches have the ingredients of ready-made indie hits, the soulful, unique, raw gravelly tone of his voice sets him apart, with lyrics that go deeper than generic hits, subtly intertwining with each other throughout the album. Grennan’s talent is undeniable, and, with such an exciting and well-received debut, it is clear that he will continue to be a prominent figure in the music scene.

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