Paolo Nutini – Last Night In The Bittersweet
Folk | Soul | Indie Rock
Plenty of acts disappear from the public eye after their time in the spotlight is over. Even moreso now, in an age when content is king and the media has the attention span of a goldfish, where creatives are expected to constantly remind people of their existence just to get by. But one thing you still don’t see too often is an artist falling off the face of the Earth at the height of their powers with no explanation. On the back of 2014’s powerhouse Caustic Love, Paolo Nutini was well on the way to establishing himself as one of Scotland’s greatest musical exports and one of best soul voices of a generation. Then, without a word, he vanished without a trace for eight years, and all the momentum he had gathered was lost. With today’s media climate, sadly that kind of momentum is more important than ever. Without it you can go from a household name to “oh yeah, I remember him” in a flash, and leave yourself with a real mountain to climb to claw your way back to the spotlight.
As comeback albums go, Last Night In The Bittersweet is a very understated affair. Harking back to the golden age of singer/songwriters, the record lives up to its name, touching on tales of loves lost or unspoken with affecting and bittersweet melodies. Probably his most consistent release to date, it covers a lot of ground while maintaining a great sense of flow and cohesion. ‘Through The Echoes’ and ‘Everywhere’ brush the dust off the earnest soulful Paolo we know and love from his last record, while later on we’re treated to a one-two punch of mid-tempo rockers with ‘Shine A Light’ and ‘Desperation’. The mellow ‘Abigail’ and album highlight and closer ‘Writer’ explore a more stripped back folk approach, while the end of ‘Take Me Take Mine’ dips its toes into the world of psychedelica. The majority of these experiments are given enough of a personal touch for them all to blend together as a spectrum, a small piece of the wider picture, rather than being a collection of odds and ends.
That said, Bittersweet is not without its missteps. While most musical touchstones Paolo draws from feel natural and right at home, the abrasive 60s pastiche of ‘Petrified In Love’ would have been better left on the cutting room floor. Though that’s by far the most egregious example, Bittersweet does sadly continue the trend in Paolo’s discography of having lots of little niggles issues all accumulating to drag the record down. For someone with such a superb singing voice it seems an odd choice to dedicate so much time to spoken word on tracks like ‘Afterneath’ and ‘Lose It’. The latter especially feels like such wasted potential, with the great riffs and the rising tension of the driving bass line squandered on repetitive spoken word lyrics.
Shallow or repetitive lyricism is something that often seems to be the weak link. ‘Acid Eyes’ shows such promise with its superb instrumentation and affecting melodies, but its monotonous hook barely makes a ripple when the rest of the track feels so engaging. The only track that stands out lyrically for all the right reasons is the closer ‘Writer’, but by the time you’ve made it that far your mind is already made up. That feels indicative of the album’s biggest flaw – it’s length. With 16 tracks, at nearly an hour and a quarter, Bittersweet sadly feels like quite the ponderous slog to get through. It’s noteworthy for being a very consistent album, coming from an artist who flips so much between failed experiments and some of the goosebump inducing music you’ll ever hear, but it feels like it achieves this by levelling off the peaks. While the vast majority of tracks are well made and enjoyable enough, when listened to as a whole it’s exceeding difficult to pick out highlights that do anything particularly interesting or noteworthy. As an album designed to re-enter Paolo Nutini into the public consciousness, the forgettable Bittersweet ultimately feels ill-equipped for the task.