Music
2:14 pm
Tue September 17, 2013

Tom Odell: A Polarizing New Voice Shows Promise

Originally published on Tue September 17, 2013 3:34 pm

When Tom Odell received the 2013 BRIT Critics' Choice Award in February, his career looked to be on the fast track. Previous winners of the award, which recognizes a promising newcomer, include the megastar Adele. Just weeks after the win, a critic at the music weekly NME gave Odell's album a rare zero-star review, describing him as a "poor misguided wannabe." So, who's right?

This much is for sure: Tom Odell is a type — the somewhat fragile, sensitive soul who sings busted-apart love songs while hunched over a piano. Musically, he travels in the same lane as bands like Coldplay, and describes heartbreak using big, anthemic chords.

His songs can feel fervent and calculated at the same time; the melody in "Sense" may not be terribly daring, and the words describe a fairly ordinary moment in the arc of a love affair. Still, there's something arresting and vulnerable about the way Odell sings it.

Most of the album isn't quite this raw — and, as a result, not as riveting. Perhaps that's why some in the British press groan about Tom Odell as the latest dismaying example of paint-by-numbers pop music. Sure, he's working within the lines of an established template. But once in a while, sometimes for just a measure or two, he slips out of the familiar to offer a moment of unguarded, transcendent beauty. If he can manage a whole record of those, he'll really be someone to watch.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, we meet British singer-songwriter and pianist Tom Odell. His first album, "A Long Way Down," arrives in the U.S. this week. Odell has sparked widely disparate reactions in his home country and our reviewer Tom Moon predicts the 22-year-old is destined for more of the same here.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: When Tom Odell was named the 2013 Critics' Choice at the British equivalent of the Grammys in February, his career looked to be on the fast track. Previous winners of the award, which recognizes a promising newcomer, include megastar Adele. But weeks later, a critic at the music weekly NME gave Tom Odell's album a rare zero-star review, describing him as, quote, "a poor misguided wannabe." So, who's right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: This much is for sure: Tom Odell is a type, that somewhat fragile, sensitive soul who sings busted-apart love songs hunched over the piano. Musically, he travels in the same lane as bands like Coldplay. He describes heartbreak using big, anthem chords. His songs can feel fervent and calculated at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOM ODELL: (Singing) Or if I was so nice, I could have convinced my friends that you weren't right. I could promise you my heart don't cry. Would it all make sense? 'Cause I've been feeling pretty small...

MOON: That's the song that first got my attention. The melody may not be terribly daring, the words describe a fairly ordinary moment in the arc of a love affair. And still, there's something arresting and vulnerable about the way Tom Odell sings it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ODELL: (Singing) Oh, I'm feeling pretty small. Sometimes I feel like I'm slipping down walls. And every line I get, oh, it seems to break.

MOON: Much of the album is not quite this raw and, as a result, not as riveting. Perhaps that's why some in the British press groan about Tom Odell as the latest dismaying example of paint-by-numbers pop music. Sure, he's working within the lines of an established template.

But every once in a while, sometimes for just a measure or two, he slips away from the familiar to offer a moment of unguarded, transcendent beauty. If he can manage a whole record of that, he'll really be someone to watch.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ODELL: (Singing) I want to take you somewhere so you know I care. But it's so cold and I don't know where. I brought you daffodils on a pretty string, but they won't flower like they did last spring.

SIEGEL: The debut from singer-songwriter Tom Odell is called "Long Way Down." Our reviewer is music critic Tom Moon. He's the author of "One Thousand Recordings To Hear Before You Die." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.