Charlie Simpson ‘Young Pilgrim’ – Review

17 Aug

Charlie Simpson is only 26 years old. This surprised me. Busted bounced (literally, if you remember) onto the scene in 2002, which means that Charlie would only have been 17. Not even an adult. Maybe (definitely) we were too harsh on them, but they were an easy target; popular, crude, Americanized, talented, unstoppable and irresistible to the opposite sex. But listening to their music today it is startlingly clear just how unique Busted were – a boy band that could really play instruments and really write songs, a many of which were funny and catchy enough to outweigh their annoying tendencies. Listen to ‘Crashed the Wedding’ –  wouldn’t you just kill for your younger sibling to be listening to that today rather than ‘Swagger Jagger’ or that really annoying JLS song?

But they clearly had a short shelf life, two albums as it transpired (and a reunion is apparently less likely than The Smiths getting back together). Charlie formed Post-hardcore/metal band Fighstar next, and what he brought to Busted he also brought to his second band – it wasn’t the grand departure it was billed as. Fightsar were, and remain, a heavy and shouty but melodic and likeable band, and they’re excellent live. Charlie (like any former pop star the public are on first name terms with him) now brings these qualities to his first solo album, ‘Young Pilgrim’, another melodically charged, catchy record, but one that is sonically and musically far removed from both Busted and Fightstar.

Electric guitars have been replaced by acoustic ones, the drums sound charmingly untuned, there are banjos, harmonies, clapping; he keeps getting compared to Mumford and Sons but this is probably a red herring, I can hear the influence of Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Cat Stevens and CSN. Old weird America as done by a middle class Brit. Yes, if you were cynical you could say that the timing of the album’s release is a little too perfect, arriving as it does slap bang in the middle of an acoustic revival, but Charlie does seem sincere and ‘Young Pilgrim’ sounds authentic and genuine enough (but then again he seemed sincere in Bused and it turns out he hated life in that group).

The songs here are poppy, but not in the Busted way, they are often minor key, moody and deal with some pretty uncool/old-fashioned themes. song titles include ‘Thorns’, ‘Riverbanks’, and ‘Farmer and His Gun’, and musically they have the same earthy quality. Emphasis is on acoustic instruments, the rhythms are rambling, and the harmonies recall family sing alongs or church choirs (they are expertly sung by Charlie himself). The album was produced by the guy who did Coldplay’s X&Y, and that band’s influence surprisingly looms large over ‘Young Pilgrim’. The choruses are larger than life, inclusive, emotive, hands-aloft sing-songs – almost without exception. It works  most of the time, especially on ‘Parachutes’, ‘Down Down’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘All at Once’. It’s probably the least innovative or adventurous album I’ve heard all year, but that’s it’s charm – I can’t see anyone being blown away by it, but if you like old-fashioned, down to earth music then this will be your cup of tea.

‘Young Pilgrim’ is not a stylish album, it goes for the jugular and it takes the most obvious route there. You can see the choruses coming a mile off and the arrangements and lyrics are straightforward and occasionally clumsy. A couple of years ago this type of music would have been ridiculed, but how times have changed, in the wake of Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, Charlie Simpson now has a chance of returning to the top of the charts. Despite a couple of reservations about it, ‘Young Pilgrim’ is a more than decent debut album, perhaps a bit clichéd and effected, but well crafted, magnificently sung and likeable in a quant way. By my count this is Charlie’s seventh album in almost as many years, and by anyone’s standards that is pretty good going. ‘Young Pilgrim’ is a nice little addition to that discography.

6/10

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