While DanielMerriweather may not be a household name right now, it’s only a matter of time. Since his collaboration with Mark Ronson on “Stop Me”, his musical career has progressed in leaps and bounds, taking him far from his native Australia, and is likely to take off in a big way any day now. Merriweather is the latest bright young thing to tag onto the retro revival spearheaded by Amy Winehouse et al, and his debut album, Love & War, is an estimable showcase of his refreshingly down-to-earth talent.
Merriweather sounds less like his influences, Stevie Wonder and Jeff Buckley, than he does Jamie Lidell (or, perhaps, a less wet James Morrison): his voice and songs are too polished, too processed to warrant comparisons to those of his idols. In fact, Love & War can be compared easily to Lidell’s Jim, as both are polished, poppy examples of modern soul – both make great background music, too. My parents put on something by Gerry Rafferty whenever they entertain, and I’m confident that Love & War would be a solid choice for any host wanting something similarly inoffensive and unobtrusive. This is not to say Love & War is not a good album: I didn’t expect to like it and even I found myself humming along after the second or third listen, and it flows in and out of individual tracks very smoothly. However, it neither commands nor requires your complete and undivided attention in the way that something as multifaceted and intricate as, say, Animal Collective’s latest does. (Please note that I could have made a Merriweather/Merriweather joke there, but I resisted.)
“Impossible” is a punchy opener that would not have been out of place on Kill Bill Vol. 1 – the percussion and upbeat, chunky guitar bring to mind Santa Esmerelda’s take on “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” from the soundtrack of said movie. While it might not lay claim to Merriweather’s most inspired lyrics, it sets a danceable vibe that is continued by “Could You”, another highlight. Not only is it a genuine and catchy tune, it’s also Merriweather at perhaps his most soulful, as he implores his lover to “be [his] yellow when [he’s] feeling grey”. The interlude at 2:20 sounds strikingly “Good Vibrations”-esque, but the moment of chirpy vocal harmonies is brief: Merriweather is an accomplished and powerful singer, and doesn’t need to rely on his backing vocalists to support him during more climatic moments.
A piano-driven ballad with story-telling lyrics, “For Your Money” opens like something by Billy Joel in one of his more reflective moments, before transforming into a showcase for a gritty guitar solo. Even though it’s one of the slower tracks on the album, Merriweather loses neither passion nor power in his performance. While this is testament to his versatility, “Chainsaw” seems more representative of his defining style. An upbeat, toe-tapping number, it’s remarkably positive for a post-breakup song (“Giving myself to you is like giving myself to a chainsaw”).
“Change”, featuring Wale (who is also appearing on many ‘one to watch’ lists at the moment), has a decidedly funky vibe, and Wale’s rap is right on the money. Of the two collaborations on the album, “Change” is definitely my favorite: while “Water and a Flame”, featuring Adele, is winning Merriweather fans left, right and centre, I myself found it melodramatic (gospel-esque choir, anyone?) compared to the rest of the tracks on the album, which are comparatively upbeat and down-to-earth. Having said that, Adele and Merriweather sound lovely together, and the lyrics are stellar: I’d like to hear them paired together in a track that didn’t sound so much like James Morrison’s (in my estimation, god-awful) duet with Nelly Furtado.
“Cigarettes” is my favourite track on Love & War. If you don’t like this, you won’t like any of Merriweather’s work (and probably have no soul). It’s a raw, honest, easy song with reflective, thought-provoking lyrics; a catchy tune; and a funky outro. Tracks like “Cigarettes” set Merriweather apart from his lacklustre contemporaries, and will have his name in lights in the not-too-distant future.