He certainly ain't Blunt and he damn sure ain't a cun...well...you get the picture...
Although Ben Marwood worries about being perceived as "a rubbish version of James Blunt or some kind of deity", (his words) and also bangs on about how Sam Duckworth stole his sound, (his words) with 'This Is Not What You Had Planned', he's sure to get the last laugh.
Yes, he's another messed-up-male-acoustic-guitar-playing-singer-songwriter, but at least he's a messed-up-male-acoustic-guitar-playing-singer-songwriter that can write proper lyrics, doesn't sing like John Inman on helium and sounds as if he's actually lived a relatively normal life and, furthermore, would probably smack the ever sycophantic Jools Holland in the face if he tried to chuck some boogie-woogie piano over one of his songs. He seems like he's one of the good guys.
All but one of the tracks on 'This Is Not What You Had Planned' are pretty much just Marwood and the aforementioned acoustic axe, and because the lyrics are the main focus here, that's really all you need. It doesn't matter if it's accident or design that has led Marwood to trudge down the rustic, leaf-strewn acoustic route, because I'm sure that his lyrics would leap off any aural page; be it one of lush and dense sonic landscapes or the stark and unencumbered aural folio that constitutes the majority of this record: Marwood's lyrical maturity makes for an enthralling ride.
Opener 'Question Marks' was previously available on Broken Tail Records's 'Four by Four More' compilation E.P.: It was a stand-out track then and remains a highlight here, acting as a perfect introduction to Marwood's sound and lyrical persuasion - which is pretty much: (a) yes I know I sound a bit like James Blunt and Death Cab for Cutie but (b) I'm a lot funnier and angry with it and (c) I can also sing a bit too y'know, oh and by the way (d) I'm also a pretty miserable obsessive-compulsive-manic-depressive that just really wants to find the right girl and settle down and be happy and stuff, and, y'know (e) don't forget that I'm still funny and angry. He's also a self-effacing and pragmatic fellow, and on this track he promises that on no account will he "preach revolution, 'cause [he's] not as dumb as to think [he] has the solution", a phrase that exposes a morality far superior to the sermonising Duckworth straight off the bat.
Moving on, if Elvis Costello's 'I Want You' is the most bitter and twisted break-up song ever recorded, 'I Know What I Did Last Summer' has damn sure got a shot at taking the prize for the most heartbreakingly romantic and disconsolate love letter ever recorded. And that's pretty high praise indeed, because even stuff like Boston's 'A Man I'll Never Be' brings a tear to this critics eye.
The gloomy yet brisk staccato guitar runs are emphatically assuaged by a yearning and lovelorn vocal of a truly shattering angered despondency and delectably mournful melancholy that hits you like that train wreck did Harrison Ford in 'The Fugitive'. Sample lyric: "All I can hear are the moans and the breaths of you and your lover / And you are with another now": Ouch. Only the rock-like real men out there'll be able to get through it without reaching for the Kleenex and blubbing like a toddler that's just been told Hannah Montana got tagged during a gangland drive-by spearheaded by the cast of High School Musical 3. The references to teenage TV shows like 'The O.C.' also encapsulate how hard it is for us disaffected Generation X-ers (+10) to come to terms with loss and rejection when we can barely balance our overdrafts and tie our own shoelaces. Oh, and the final couplet's a killer blow too.
Elsewhere, Marwood tackles a wide range of subjects, including the retarded state of the contemporary mainstream music industry and those hideous boy/girl bands that believe that being able to dance like morons equals answering the question "Occupation?" with "Musician" when filling in forms ('Fake It'); possible mental illness, definite violence and maybe a bit of OCD ('Five Little Secrets'); the dangers of, and the enforced intrusiveness that constitutes the principle tenets of organised religion ('Heathens'); and a justifiably lost love ('Claire'). It's really quite a trip, man.
And although it might be thought that an album of mostly acoustic numbers might bore one or lapse into repetition, it's the exceptional lyrics that keep the listener balancing on the hind legs with pricked ears and eyes scanning the horizon for a suitably meaty supper. And Marwood certainly delivers a four-star banquet.
'This Is Not What You Had Planned' is a fine record. And while Ben Marwood may well be working within an achingly familiar and dramatically overexposed genre, a genre that some might argue is as facile and constructed as the pop scene he actively criticises and eschews, 'This Is Not What You Had Planned' is a confident, intelligent, fascinating, comical, infuriating and downright heartbreaking debut album. And you can't ask for much more than that. This record comes highly recommended.