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Album review: Tom Odell - Jubilee Road


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Ivor Novello winner Tom Odell has shown that he can churn out breakup piano-anthems, particularly in his debut album, Long Way Down. The long-awaited Jubilee Road is endowed with soft chords, soothing backing vocals and relationships as the focus, yet Odell allows himself to venture into the upbeat, too.

Jubilee Road is a valiant celebration of sadness. Odell’s impassioned voice fails, particularly over high notes, to contain its emotions as he wobbles and wails with perfectly imperfect pitch. ‘You’re Gonna Break My Heart Tonight’ and ‘Half As Good As You’ revel and lament in raw feelings, wrapped up in tender piano chords. ‘Half As Good As You’ opens with “I’m sick to death of eating breakfast on my own”, an obvious nod to the song’s subject matter. The collaboration with Alice Merton is pleasantly surprising, as her range glides up with considerably more ease.

‘You’re Gonna Break My Heart Tonight’ is an ironically romantic serenade, given its title, bursting into a cliché saxophone solo; Odell opens himself up to the romanticised notion of vulnerability. Additionally, ‘Queen of Diamonds’ dances in bittersweet memory, the luck of drawing the Queen of Diamonds, “you remember all the love she carried with her, like a bitter cheap champagne” summoning Fleetwood Mac-esque minor harmonies and delicate notes on top of its block piano chords.

The uplifting contrasts in the album, both lyrically and sonically, are ultimately undercut by the foreboding heartbreak - ‘Go Tell Her Now’ is abundant with staccato acoustic strums and drum machine beat, a song about optimistically following an impulse; “You may never know how she’s feeling”. Perhaps, however, this is the album’s message: we should let ourselves be vulnerable because to feel love we need to feel hurt too. This notion is embodied in upbeat piano ballad ‘If You Wanna Love Somebody’, with Odell becoming romantically disposable because of the incessant need to feel loved after being hurt, “If you wanna love somebody, I’m your guy”.

Jubilee Road also immerses itself in successful genre experimentation, as a reflection of the mood exuded by its lyricism. ‘Don’t Belong In Hollywood’ has an almost jazzy feel, with its emphasised vocal downbeats and elevated 80s style gated drum solos. Its lyrics cleverly mirror each other; from “You don’t belong in Hollywood” to “I don’t belong in Hollywood”, to become a song about wrongly trying to outgrow each other. The theatrical feel to the song personifies a forced identity - the needless metaphorical glamour of Hollywood.

Moreover, Elton John’s influence is clearly woven into the album’s DNA, both ‘China Dolls’ and ‘Son Of An Only Child’ feature gritty saxophone solos, piano runs and distorted electric guitar riffs. ‘China Dolls’ is an infectious jazz-pop ballad, “don’t be so hard on yourself” at its lyrical core, accepting that you are not at fault for those who hurt you, “Some may treat you so damn cold like china dolls / Look at their devil eyes”.

It is, however, the album’s opening and closing songs that give meaning to its individual parts. The album’s title song, ‘Jubilee Road’ is a beautiful ode to home in which people come and go but the place remains saturated in nostalgic warmth. Its touching lyrics, particularly about a widowed old man, “I think tomorrow night I will knock on his door and hear about his life”, connects it to the last track, ‘Wedding Day’.

Another piano ballad, 'Wedding Day' oozes bittersweet happiness for someone who has moved on, tinged with a detached sense of regret: “I’ll save the best one for the second dance / If you want to dance with me by chance”. ‘Wedding Day’, in particular, ties all the songs together with contingent meaning in relation to each other; we should always act on romantic impulses, and embrace hurt as it pales in significance to the regret of not fighting for love.

Jubilee Road is a masterpiece in emotional song-writing; Odell sings authentically about his experience. Though an intensive listen at times, his voice complements his style, particularly his piano ballads that he has become acclaimed for.

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