Review: The Awakening by James Morrison

Introduction

The album The Awakening by James Morrison is his third studio album, released on the 26th September 2011. The artist describes the album as much like a “real” first album; his two previous albums having been like “practice shots”. I chose to write this review as I’m a fan of James Morrison’s music and have been in much anticipation for this album, so I’d like to share my thoughts.

Overall, The Awakening is a very strong, dense album. It follows musical themes which I think is its best aspect. Lyrically, James Morrison has always written very sweet love songs, as well as self-reflection songs – this time around I believe he’s done that in a more mature manner, and it’s amazing how he’s adapted the style of jazz to fit his lyrics. I don’t come across a lot of jazz music, more on the blues side of things, that evoke such emotion as well as keeping the beat and making something catchy and at the same time something you’d put under your ‘easy listening’ tapes. Michael Buble does a good job of that, no doubt, but as a smooth crooner of swing rather than of blues/pop. James Morrison was known for his pop rock style but in this album branches out into something more jazz/soul.

I’ll set this review out song-by-song with a conclusion.

Track review

In My Dreams

This started out really nice, really soft, smooth, melodic jazz. I really liked the second verse and bridge. It was really nice hearing this at first, not knowing what to expect from the rest of the album. I adore jazz music and James Morrison’s previous albums have never been this “jazzy” – they’ve always been more like pop rock and soul. This definitely has the blues in the instruments and everything. The ending was not expected – I suppose the strings were a bit too harsh for my liking.

6 Weeks

The beginning and end of this song is reminiscent of James Morrison’s signature vocals from his older albums, the soft slurs and the lower vocal range. His rough voice is known to be a result of a severe case of whooping cough as a child. In this song you do hear longer notes and a wider vocal range. There’s a bit of evidence of struggling as he sings the higher notes. It is, however, a good effort. The ending is sadly a bit abrupt.

I Won’t Let You Go

There’s a distinct drum beat that enters the song in the second verse, and is prominent throughout the song, well accompanied by strings. I believe this goes more down the road of older, dense, 90s pop music – best described as a ballad. As the second single released from this album, I think it was a good choice. However, the ending to this song is also rather abrupt and I think it could have been done better with a fade out. This song is one of the most catchy ones on the album.

Up

This song features Jessie J – I’m not a fan of Jessie J, so I tried my best to listen to it without letting my opinion of her affect what I thought of the song. I actually think Jessie J did a very good job. She really added some soul into the song in her solo verse, and she harmonised very well with Morrison. What I didn’t like about this song was the transition into the bridge, however, the transition out from the bridge to the end chorus was much better.

Slave To The Music

This song was a lot more upbeat. I really liked the percussion in the song, and again, the strings were really great. It was nice hearing Morrison do a song like this, with a more unique sound and even some scatting and obvious improvisation. I have to admit I didn’t like the phrase “slave to the music”, though I really liked the bridge with “she’s got me rockin’, she’s got me moving, she’s got me dancing” repeated four times over.

Person I Should Have Been

The title of this song reminded me of James Morrison’s older songs, lyrically. The beginning of this song sounded like one of those songs that you hear in a Spanish bar in the early evening. The previous song definitely was a good lead-in to this one. I can’t help but think that the title of this song and the phrase “person I should have been” is also a bit dull. I didn’t like that it was used at the end of the choruses, upon which moment the music would cease as well. It is also a bit off-sounding that “been” is sung at a higher note most times it is sung. This was, however, a pretty relaxing song.

Say Something Now

A beautiful song, but again could have been faded out at the end! This is a gorgeous song, which definitely reminds me of Morrison’s older music. It’s gentle and sweet and easy to listen to.

Beautiful Life

This is rather upbeat that reminded me of Wonderful World. If I came across anyone who wanted to hear the best of this album, I’d suggest this song to listen to first. It has a beat that you can easily tap your foot to, with vocals to match. The background vocals really add to what I would call the “flavour” of the song. The scatting at the end fits perfectly with the rest of the song. And finally – really fantastic to see a fade out in this song!

Forever

This is a great song which starts out quickly, with a rather strange sequence. This is fast-flowing, lyrically, and musically. I think this goes well with Beautiful Life. There is no awkward falsetto and you can tell that Morrison is very comfortable with the vocals in this song. We do hear some higher notes in this song but it definitely fits the fast pace, and you can definitely feel the begging sort of emotion laid out in this one. I think that the highlight of the song is the repetition in the last third of the song.

The Awakening

Ah, the song the album got its name from. It also happens to be the longest, clocking in at 5 minutes and 10 seconds. This song has a dash of country at the beginning, fading out gently at the end with a reverberating note to match. The ending seems a lot like that of the opening track. I’m noticing a trend in softer opening verses with percussion really beating it in at the second verse. In this case, the percussion could have been introduced into the first verse a bit more dramatically. It’s very nice how the chorus has a wide range, beginning with higher notes and cascading into a lower key.

Right By Your Side

Very limited percussion in this song. This is another very lovely song that emphasises Morrison’s vocals, though the guitar can be a little bit harsh. They increase in power as Morrison’s vocals do, which sort of drown out his vocals.

One Life

Beautiful piano opening – just what I’d expected after the previous song. The acoustic guitar is very prominent in this song, which makes this song the most like James Morrison’s popular old stuff like You Give Me Something. It’s good to see the style make a comeback. The lyrics remind me of This Boy, as well. I adore the bridge – it’s wonderful the way the previous verse rolls into the bridge, strengthening its power. Again though, the ending of the song was very disappointing, being rather abrupt and “off”.

All Around The World

This is a rather gentle song, but not as gentle as Right By Your Side. The enthusiastic drum beats really emphasise the verses and keep the song interesting. I wouldn’t say the falsetto is all that great – it’s a bit harsh and loud, but it adds some variety.

Overall comments and conclusion

I find this album to be a bit disappointing, as I haven’t found many gems of songs on it. Out of thirteen, I thought I’d find at least a couple to really hit me like the singles on his previous albums. I do think that because of the change in style in his music to something more of the roots of jazz, it will be difficult to get used to. I admire that James Morrison has worked on this style and tried something different that wouldn’t naturally fit in the mainstream. I believe that’s where he deserves the most credit – for hacking into something he felt passionately about rather than producing a work of art that succumbs to the radio waves of this decade. I often find that many bands vary their sound (on the third album too, no less!) and become a “pile of suck” or something that many fans become disappointed in.

I’m lucky I like jazz music, I can say. It’s very nice to hear something different from such an artist. What will set James Morrison apart from other pop singers is the difference in style of this album. It will definitely have a spot among most people’s easy listening CDs, albeit easily forgotten.

The best tracks on the album are I Won’t Let You Go, Forever and One Life. The album is very solid and rich in musical quality, though some of the songs that should stand out are drowned in the bluesy instrumentals of other songs. The strings are often overwhelming on some tracks, and many of the songs’ outros could be improved. James Morrison’s voice is wonderful as usual – there’s no mistaking its huskiness – at times, though, lacking true emotion as was evident in his first album. It’s possible that the instruments themselves are overpowering, or the faster pace of the album doesn’t fit his voice as well.

It would be a good idea to give this album a second chance if it didn’t catch you the first time. It’s worth another listen, in a more relaxing setting too. I believe that this album shouldn’t be delivered in such a way that it is fired full force at your ears. Most people like to listen to new albums when they “have time to listen”, but welcome James Morrison to your ears with a few plays in your afternoon as you busy yourself with something else. The best way to get into this album is to replay it over your mundane daily tasks. Soon you’ll probably find yourself immersed in a few tracks you can call your favourites.

Rating: 3.5/5

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