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Phil Campbell - After The Garden

Phil Campbell, After The Garden

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

I MUST admit, I had higher hopes for Phil Campbell’s debut album After The Garden. Lead single Maps was a genuine pleasure. But the remainder of the album left me underwhelmed.

Some critics have hailed him as the next David Gray, or an artist capable of cosying up to Damien Rice for brooding intensity. Others have mentioned Ryan Adams and Neil Young in the same breath. In truth, some of his songs reminded me more of James Blunt. Still, if you like any of those artists, you may find plenty to admire here.

Certainly, Campbell is all about honesty, as After The Garden tell listeners his story after he fell out with EMI, blew his advance on drugs and friends and general sordid tales of his life. There are songs about love, cocaine induced incidents and his own stories of flirtation with religion.

But sometimes the journey feels ponderous, and occasionally heavy-going. It comes in stark contrast to Maps, which kicks off with some fine mouth organ, a sunny backbeat, melody and the lyric “I’ve been known for my hesitation…” There’s nothing doubtful about his delivery, however, which seemed to mark the arrival of a great new artist.

Sadly, whilst the dusky, cigarette-laced vocals remain a striking feature throughout, the album fails to build on the success of Maps.

Album opener No Love Songs raises hopes, emerging as an anti-ballad that’s couched in painfully honest lyricism and an encouraging acoustic guitar backing.

But a lot of the ensuing songs follow the same pattern. Cold Engines is dusky, hushed and more acoustic driven, while the stripped down Sweet Sister is another heart-on-sleeve moment that could do with a little bit more life. It’s over-earnest and when Maps follows, you tend to realise what the album has been missing.

Sadly, Maps doesn’t really mark the turning point, as Isn’t She Beautiful drops the tempo once more to return to the folksy acoustics and aching romanticism of the earlier songs – as does A Little Hand and Should’ve Stayed Home.

That’s not to say the album is a complete write-off, merely more one-note than I’d been anticipating. But of the tracks still worth keeping an eye on, Same Old Me benefits from a more brooding set of vocals and some more nice mouth organ, and Joy quickens the tempo and boasts some of the album’s best guitar work. Campbell, too, adopts a falsetto style that works to the song’s advantage.

Hey Mama, meanwhile, is quite possibly the loudest song on the album and a welcome wake-up call. It’s just a shame that After The Garden then ends things on a more pensive note.

Campbell clearly has a lot to offer as a singer and a songwriter – drawing from a wealth of life experience and some obvious talent – but he needs to mix things up a little more on his next album. For while this does boast some really strong moments, it fails to add up to a completely satisfying experience.

Download picks: No Love Songs, Maps (How I Feel About You), Joy, Hey Mama

Track listing:

  1. No Love Songs [Revised]
  2. Cold Engines
  3. Sweet Sister
  4. Maps (How I Feel About You)
  5. Isn’t She Beautiful
  6. A Little Hand
  7. Should Have Stayed At Home [Revised]
  8. Same Old Me
  9. Joy
  10. Hey Mama
  11. After The Garden