Listening to Whispers, the fifth album by Mike Rosenberg, aka Passenger, is not unlike being in a British pub listening to a local musician play songs to an attentive audience over a pitcher of draft beer.
In this pub, Passenger has the small crowd in his palm of his hand as he sings songs of personal experiences and perspectives, love, story-telling, and at several points throughout, provides everyone the chance to sing along.
It’s a very real image when listening to the British songwriter’s record because the songs are performed with such intimacy, it’s like a private jam session from his mouth and guitar to your ear. It’s not even so much that the lyrics themselves are necessarily personal, it’s how he performs them to give them that impression.
A lot is learned about the folk singer with the unique voice on Whispers. He takes a staunch position on how his career is handled; as he says in 27, he doesn’t care if his songs make the chart, he won’t be selling his soul to the devil for fame.
In fact, Passenger comes across as a very traditionally-minded guy. He believes people should embrace nature and surroundings rather than screens, where on Scare Away The Dark, he leaves with “we’re all slowly dying in front of fucking computers.”
It’s a distaste for technology that resonates with his music, allowing it to sound intimate and authentic, and performed completely free of any gadgets – as is evidenced on the deluxe edition bonus tracks which consist of acoustic versions, performed solo.
But perhaps the most interesting quality of Passenger’s songwriting comes with how he observes experiences and converts them into song. As he writes on the title track, “all I need’s a whisper/in a world that only shouts.”
In returning to the pub setting, the liner notes of Passenger’s album (which are very nicely designed!) include a backstory for several songs, much like how a live act would tell prior to a performance. In both cases, Bullets and Riding To New York, he sings of men he only briefly interacted with but picked up enough about them to extrapolate into stories that formed these songs.
These are when he’s his greatest as he captures the stories well. While some songs can come off as preachy, judgmental and cliche, Passenger is at his best when he’s telling a story and interpreting adventure, whether someone else’s or his own.
It’s unfortunate that he’s likely resigned to being listed a one-hit-wonder on account of the fluke hit Let Her Go from his breakthrough record last year, as he has so much to offer beyond that one lucky -or unlucky- break. Whispers is a strong followup to All The Little Lights and when finished, you’ll want to shake his hand and buy him a bottle of ale.
1. Coins In A Fountain
3. Heart’s On Fire
5. Golden Leaves
7. Rolling Stone
8. Start A Fire
10. Riding To New York
11. Scare Away The Dark