Charlie Simpson - Long Road Home | Album Review | By Volume

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Charlie Simpson

Long Road Home

The very pleasant cover art shows Simpson fading into the background.

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Author: on August 12, 2014
Nusic Sounds
August 4, 2014

There are so many reasons why Long Road Home is conceivably a difficult album to assess. It’s delivered by an undoubtedly talented songwriter who spent the formative years of his career in a boy band; it’s coloured by the same man’s journeys into post-hardcore with Fightstar, and it arrives in the tracks of a pseudo-folk revival (folk pseudo-revival?) spearheaded by Mumford & Sons and Ben Howard. The album veritably demands comparisons to Bon Iver; and yet, the simple truth — and arguably the success — of Charlie Simpson’s sophomore solo LP is that it manages to stockpile both its praise and its criticisms at a safe distance from all of these things, floating to the surface of an imperfect but striking body of water, seemingly free of any of the aforementioned weight.

This is not to say that Long Road Home ever transcends its occasionally brazen Justin Vernon impersonations, nor that Simpson feels detached from any number of other influences that may have pulled him in this gentle folk direction after so many years of power chords. But there is an oddly disconcerting beauty in the way that he manages to hold melodic (and harmonic!) focus where his debut drifted into nothingness. Despite the often disjointed nature of the tracks here — several songs drop the instrumentation out entirely right before a final chorus which feels weirdly unconnected — Simpson’s simple, organic stories about ivy and winter hymns is an infectious mist.

It’s the same humility that renders the record so softly-spoken and endearing that ultimately keeps Long Road Home from anything beyond that. You can feel Simpson finding his way around the rules well enough to break a few here and there — the piano section which unexpectedly closes “Another Year” is a good example — but it’s hard to feel any real sense of conviction in his artistic license beyond the construction of admittedly gorgeous soundscapes and harmonies. The lyrical content is sweet but essentially timid; the mix is one which prioritises those harmonies and Simpson’s dulcet tones. The thing is that, within the context of twisting folk for pop purposes, Simpson possesses the ability and timing here to smash Justin Vernon’s proverbial face in, but refuses it. There’s charm in that decision, but Long Road Home showcases as much obviously unfulfilled potential as it does talent. The very pleasant cover art shows Simpson fading into the background. He’s capable of more than blending in.

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