Rag’n’Bone Man – Life By Misadventure
Pop | Soul
By far one of the best parts of my job is the chance to see artists you love get the big break they deserve. After months and years of trying to share their music as far and wide as you can, in the hopes that it moves others as much as it moved you, it brings such a sense of pride to see them finally get their name out there and reach a wider audience. In recent years however I’ve sadly come to see such big breaks as a double-edged sword. For the longest time I never understood the logic of people wanting acts they love to remain their own little secret; why wouldn’t you want them to succeed, why wouldn’t you want other people to have the chance to feel what you feel? More recently however I’ve come to see how success changes people. How the industry takes talented artists and erodes down what makes them unique so that they can all fit into the same homologous radio-friendly mould. What’s left is a shadow of the artist you loved, with much of the grit and heart and humanity stripped away for something that’s bland, inoffensive and unremarkable. That newfound wider audience end up not knowing what their missing, having heard only the watered down, overly produced version, and not the artist living up to their full potential.
Looking back I think Rag’n’Bone Man fared a lot better than most with his debut album. While it had a few overly safe filler tracks, you also had songs like ‘Human’ and ‘Bitter End’ that showcased all the grit and darkness of him at his best. And flying in the face of so many over-produced debuts it ended with an a Capella rendition of an old blues standard; a moment so raw and real that truly let his voice shine. However, by the time we get to Life By Misadventure, the cracks are now starting to show. There are few such risks or moments of character here, this is very much a record that plays it safe. There’s a lot of half-baked balladry, particularly in the latter half with tracks like the piano driven ‘Lightyears’ and the ill-fitting country RnB fusion of ‘Time Will Only Tell’. It’s a far more subdued release, which is no cardinal sin on its own, but the simple repetitive arrangements are far less engaging, the hooks are often nowhere near as memorable, and none of the slower numbers have as much passion as previous ballads like ‘Grace’.
That’s not to say there aren’t still a few gems worth digging for. The acoustic arrangement of opening track ‘Fireflies’ has a wonderfully lush warmth to it, while the bright piano and expansive synths of ‘Crossfire’ assure that it’s awash with gorgeous melodies. A duet with Pink isn’t something I’d have envisioned a few years back, but listening to ‘Anything Away From Here’ it’s hard to deny that their voices make for a spellbinding combination. But it’s album highlight ‘All You Ever Wanted’ that makes the biggest departure from Rory’s established sound, and by extension becomes the record’s most unique and engaging offering. The energetic indie rocker boasts a propulsive rhythm section, hints of The Killers’ expansive Americana sound and heartfelt socially conscious lyricism akin to Sam Fender. Seeing how the record’s biggest risk also delivers the biggest pay-off, it just makes Life By Misadventure’s refusal to make waves all the more frustrating. Rag’n’Bone Man has plenty of fire and passion to give but there’s noticeably few flashes of it on this particularly tame outing. Even with only half measures his magnificent vocals manage to keep the album afloat, but it feels quite apparent that he’s capable of so much more.