If the music industry proves one thing, it’s that success breeds success. Or rather it breeds copyists. Available to sell to an established audience, and perfect for ‘now try this’ streaming sites, acts who sound like other acts have always been common; but they’re perhaps perfect for today’s algorithm culture.
So if the Beatles were followed by hundreds of Mersey-beat styled pop/rock acts, and Oasis created a cottage industry of Brit rockers, then who’s to follow in 2019? Interesting art-bands like the 1975 or hard-edged pop stars like Mia? Unfortunately, not always. Sometimes we go straight for the kings and queens of pop. And sometimes that means Ed Sheeran.
Now say what you like about Mr Sheeran, but he was original when he first broke. Effects pedal, acoustic guitar, drum box; no one had brought so little to so many. But wind the clock on 7 years and what was original in 2012 is no longer so.
Which asks questions of those, like Conor Walsh, who so evidently use his style as a reference for their own. It’s not a poor choice of influence by any means; but it’s not a one which helps to form originality, which is a key ingredient for a young act with higher than average potential.
Adding this up, ‘4’ is a debut which is interesting and accomplished, yet sadly lacks much ‘newness’. ‘Breaking out of here’, which follows the Sheeran strong structure almost to the letter, works because it starts as an acoustic pop track before hitting it’s ‘rap’ element by the 90 second mark. Yet it also doesn’t work, or doesn’t commit to memory, because it feels like something we’ve heard before. The same is true for ‘Walking through flames’ and ‘Don’t dance with your kind’; both possessing perfectly find pop structures but following common tastes too closely.
Breakouts ‘Robots’ and ‘Message in a bottle’ stand out as they find Walsh, slowed down, introspective and finding his own voice (‘why does being sad feel like a crime, have to put on a fake smile all of the time’). Defining the album these two tracks move Walsh away from common ground and into new territories which are lyrically and sonically interesting. Furthermore they provide huge evidence that, should Walsh decide to, the future could be bright; he just needs to be a little braver and find a little more unchartered territory.