Reviews

Phil Whiteley
Awakening

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The return of songwriter Phil Whiteley brings a smooth and colourful collection of songs that touch on a number of modern day topics and ideas. One World Man is the opener, presenting a soulful melody and performance alongside a big-band style, funk-driven soundscape. The track has a huge hook, a central line and melody that stays with you in the way that many big hits from the nineties and earlier did. The leading artist’s vocal style here reminds me a little of George Michael, the song’s sentiment in fact adds to that comparison – the essence of it has depth, it’s reflective of the times yet hopeful, optimistic.

Times Like This changes the vibe already, though once again it’s a song that bursts into life with a simple and memorable hook. As things develop, the musicality of the opener does return. There’s actually a certain thread of consistency in terms of the instrumentation on this project that provides a reliable and easy to get into vibe. In addition, you also get the topical relevance; the ideas are important and will hopefully inspire listeners in a positive way.

Broken is the brilliant and familiar release that fans of Phil Whiteley’s previous musical offerings will no doubt recognise and re-embrace in an instant. This stylish and part ambient, part heavy, piece of rhythm and blues puts forth yet again a superb hook section. As a songwriter, Whiteley’s abilities are consistently impressive.

Next up is a song called Now I See You. This one comes with a blues-rock feel that appears as really well placed within the collection. The opening few moments create a fresh atmosphere around you, then soon enough the chorused vocal reappears and the weight and warmth of the full, classic sound returns to continue that thread. The stop and start nature of this song means there is plenty of space intermittently appearing throughout, so the ideas sink in, and the melody hits even harder – you get time to reflect, the quiet moments reach out for your attention, then the louder ones satisfy that willingness to be involved. Phil Whiteley’s performance here is sensational, the soul and swagger of the track is represented in the utmost powerful way by everything involved in its make-up.

Say What springs into action with a notably retro bass-line, keys and synths to match, and a creatively free rhythm and structure that makes for a unique central moment within the project. The quick pace of the lyrical delivery cascades around you, as do the riffs and the various instrumental moments supporting them. The harmonies too, those additional vocals, occasionally echoing the leading line – it all adds to a feeling of this being a huge track, a moment of high energy and excitement. A live performance would most probably be the perfect way to see in the weekend.

A slight country vibe comes through with Love Life, one that seems infused with a touch of indie-rock and a melody that would feel right at home on some long distance, double-album of driving anthems. The style and soul of the leading vocal hear has a little more space around it again, showcasing effectively those intricate details and keeping you focused on that essential concept. It’s an uplifting and inspiring song that again leaves a strong feeling of positivity and possibility. The final few moments build and build, the crossing of vocals parts and the warmth of the music create a manic yet blissfully satisfying finish that draws you back to listen to the track again and again.

Keeping up the positive vibes, Love Yourself is a world-music inspired moment of mellow energy – fusing the sound of the natural music world with that of the ambient, electronic one. The song has a soulful pop ballad feel, the slower pace is well received at this point, and the concept is simply priceless and well represented. Then you get Trust Me, a reverb soaked, guitar led piece, again presenting an arena of space at first – drawing your attention to the lyrics, the emotion, the personal story telling and the contrasting accessibility of the underlying subject. The nostalgia comes in even stronger here, though every song has a touch of both the past and the present, and it’s a pleasure to hear it all unfold.

The aptly titled Love And Happiness marks the closing moment of the project. In my opinion, it’s one of the most enjoyable of all – a strong way to finish. The retro or vintage ambiance comes through in an incredibly smooth way, allowing you to appreciate your own good memories as well as be grateful for the way things currently are. As has always been stated, Phil Whiteley has a certain way with songwriting that is both widely accessible – relevant to many – and distinctly unique and true to his own individuality and artistic desire. This new album was well worth the wait.

Download Awakening via CDBaby.

Rebecca CullenMusician & writer with an MA in Songwriting.


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