Highlights: Dark Lights, Shine Loud, Greedy Little Heart, Cars Not Leaving, All That I Have, Sermon On The Mount
There’s nothing easier (or, for some, more natural) than accuse a young new artist of not being unique. And it’s true that there’s nothing particularly original about Gabriel Bruce. Love In Arms is full of reference points: there’s a little Nick Cave, a little Leonard Cohen, a little Tindersticks along the way. And yet, despite all that, there’s not a second on the whole album that lacks ambition or sounds in any way derivative.
It’s not a particularly intricate album, but Gabriel Bruce knows what he’s doing, and he does it with great authority. There’s a lot to go for here. The stomping “Honey Honey Honey” is catchy, the slow “All That I Have” has a few brilliant lyrical lines of pain and heartbreak, the penultimate “Perfect Weather” has an effective French horn hook, etc. So much to love, and in the end I ended up enjoying every single song here. I did at first think that the surprisingly lightweight “Zoe” was out of place and should have been replaced by the beautiful acoustic non-album ballad “Only One”, but then it has revealed itself as a charming little thing that brings a certain diversity and helps you take a short breath before the booming, suffocating and impassioned onslaught continues.
Granted, a record this expressly emotional can get a little over the top on occasion. And it does, particularly on the album’s Tom Waits-esque grand finale (almost overrides the scope of “Come On Up To The House” or “Anywhere I Lay My Head”), “Sermon On The Mount”, with its overpowering vocal delivery and crashing piano chords. Thankfully, it all works – with flare. Might be a somewhat superficial thing to say, but it works because it has great songs. I can get even deeper than that: the songs are so good because they are carried by articulate tunes and Gabriel’s charisma.
Love In Arms is not simply the year’s best debut so far, it is one of the most inspired and impressive British debuts in recent memory. There’s a powerful moment during “Sleep Paralysis”: about halfway through, completely out of the blue, the instrumentation gets louder. Nothing else changes – it just gets louder. And, quite miraculously, it works.