Released April 14th 2014 on Atlantic Records
Album Review: By Ryan Mitchell-Smith
“Caustic Love” insinuates from the off that the content of this latest offering from Paolo Nutini is based upon the concept of love being both a good and bad thing for him. I’m expecting some attitude and some heart-on-sleeve stuff. How it will be delivered remains a mystery until I hit play.
The album opens up with some Detroit Experiment style synthesizer work which immediately sets a conflicted but mysterious sound-scape. Before long a driving bass line kicks in and the blue-eyed soul we are so used to from Nutini now begins to settle in. The hook starts to worm into your ears before the Soul Man (1967) style riff from the guitar lifts the track to join a driving and funky soul marathon of whoops and wails. “Scream (Funk My Life Up)” is better than the 12th position it charted with in the UK when released as the first official single back on 28th January 2014.
Then we hit a snag.
The album takes an unbelievable turn and suddenly I find myself wondering if I’ve switched to an album by The Specials by mistake. This is more a tip of the hat to Bob Marley than Nutini at his best. The placement of this song on the album is completely wrong and I find myself wanting to skip this track very quickly. If you don’t skip it you actually discover quite a decent set of lyrics underneath but the experimental direction of this song does Nutini no favours and you may find yourself like me wondering what on earth Paolo was playing at here. The conflict extends to the “Bus Stop” interlude, which pulls your hailing arm back as you realise the 129 you hoped for is actually the 192 to Tottenham Hale, which thankfully terminates at the end of track 2. It’s a nice attempt at being quirky at best, but you are left wondering which newspaper was wrapping his chip supper the day he decided to put a pitch shift effect on a female voice and call it an interlude. Nutini needs to remind himself that he is not DJ Shadow.
“One Day” is a slower number that oozes more of what we are used to from this extremely talented artist. An excellent vocal reminiscent of Smokey Robinson emanates from a 6/8 soul groove with a gorgeously simple James Jamerson-esque bass line that underpins a classic track.
Nutini backs this up with a sizzling track 5. This feels like “Call Me The Breeze”, with an added melody that is reminiscent of “Working In The Coal Mine” by Allen Toussaint (1966), but with the lyrical strength of a JJ Cale classic. “Numpty” stands out on the album as a well-constructed and thought out track that shows Nutini off at his very best, before another pointless interlude arrives in track 6.
“Better Man” is another strong soul classic which sounds like a song you must have heard before. Track 7 shows that Nutini certainly has versatility, if not the best decision making skills when it comes to album-craft.
A moody track 8 sees Nutini venture closer to a Coldplay number as “Iron Sky” invites you to love it more and more on every re-listen. This feels like an experiment that was executed much more successfully than track 2. Everything’s not lost, then.
“Diana” passes without much incident into the skip pile and “Fashion” arrives as a punchy but misguided track 10. A dirty bass sounding like Super Mario’s Underworld theme comes in with a wordy accompaniment that reminds me of the theme tune to Only Fools and Horses rather than a great track that oozes sex appeal. It feels like someone said “let’s get a sexy song on there just in case” and it really doesn’t work for me.
“Looking For Something” is my guilty pleasure of the album. This experiment sounds like Jamiroquai with Nutini singing and it works in the way Chilli Dark Chocolate works. It shouldn’t but it just does, but then Cherry Blossom (track 12) arrives and is just bloody weird. Now I’m in the middle of a U2 meets Kula Shaker song and it doesn’t quite work for me.
The album finishes with a nice but somewhat out-of-place track with just an electric guitar for company and some gorgeous sixties style male harmonies. This is a lullaby to see us off into the night that works much better after several listens.
Caustic Love in a nutshell…
This is not a good album in the classic sense. There is not much evidence of any real album-craft and I personally struggled with the track order. I felt as though I ate dessert before my main, or washed my hair with conditioner before applying the shampoo. It’s topsy-turvy, and that is why I hate it a little bit. The flip side is we are left with a jumbled box of mostly amazing songs. This is a collection of tracks, not an album, but once that is accepted the songs begin to reel you in and you can appreciate that Nutini is capable of making some amazing music.
Should you buy the album?
Yes… just expect your play counter to be higher on some tracks than others.
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