The cover of John Newman‘s debut album Tribute suggests an awkward self-conscious teen idol-wannabe who is hoping to live the dream of releasing an album of standard, catchy pop music – never going as deep as he’d like to believe nor as cool as he wishes he could be.
The saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ definitely applies here.
Such a first impression before hearing the music threw me off. John Newman can sing. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks and completely owns his music. He has soul and conviction and it completely reimagines the image on the cover. He’s not an awkward outsider wanting to fit in. he’s it.
To go further on the point that he isn’t trying to be the status quo, John focuses the album on his musical inspirations. The first 90 seconds of the record he lists artists he considers an inspiration to his growth and who he is today, from the 1950s to now. From Wilson Pickett and Aaron Neville, to Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan, to Cee Lo Green and Amy Winehouse – and dozens more.
That intro segues into the first song where John lays out how these artists have helped him grow into the person he is: “It’s all for you, it’s all for you/For what you have made me, look how I grew/Here’s my tribute.”
From then on out, John Newman has set himself up to having a lot to prove. Most of the rest of Tribute consists mainly of up-tempos, and those are where he really shines.
Love Me Again and Cheating are 90s-throwback house anthems with swirling strings, demanding piano hooks, and a backing of horns that help make them just that much bigger.
Most of the songs are about separation. Sometimes they aren’t necessarily full-on heartbreak (Love Me Again, Losing Sleep) but have enough ache to keep any sort of happiness at bay. Other times, there is no hope in sight, like in the album’s sole ballad Out Of My Head, where he sings “to shut out feeling lonely/I get out of my head.”
But John never displaces blame away from himself when the topic of blame does come up. On Goodnight Goodbye, he sings “all the things you said/I’ll never hear again/I should’ve listened more.”
The album closes on a more hopeful note in All I Need Is You, which also stands as the song most different from the rest. Up until this point, with the exception of Out Of My Head, most of the tracks follow a similar formula of huge production, soulful pop anthems, and John has exacted that style, but the lack of audial variation is the one weakness on an otherwise fantastic debut album.
John Newman and Tribute are deserving of any praise that comes. It has big choruses, true emotion and the guy can sing. His next record will definitely be one to watch.
2. Love Me Again
3. Losing Sleep
6. Out Of My Head
9. Gold Dust
10. Goodnight Goodbye
11. All I Need Is You