TITLE: Words and Music
LABEL: Verve Forecast
BITRATE: 162kbps avg
PLAYTIME: 0h 42m total
RELEASE DATE: 2008-10-07
RIP DATE: 2008-10-03
1. 7 Keys 5:23
2. Slip-Sliding Away 4:00
3. Can't Get You Out of My Mind 3:06
4. Good Goodnight 4:20
5. Mr. Universe 3:59
6. On My Knees 4:34
7. Everything Changed 2:52
8. When I Finally Get My Own Place 5:05
9. Nothing Else Matters 4:08
10. Arrivals 5:15
"Music can be an amazingly potent thing," says Matt Hales, aka Aqualung. "When I sing into the microphone in the studio, I'm whispering my secrets in people's ears. When it connects, it can be so powerful. It's still a remarkable process to me."
Indeed, in a field crowded with empty shouting, Words and Musicùthe English singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer's fourth album (and third U.S. release) under his longstanding nom de disc Aqualungùhas the feeling of a series of deep emotional truths whispered in confidence. An effortlessly intimate set of subtly crafted, organically melodic tunes with openhearted lyrics and spare, mostly acoustic arrangements, Words and Music features some of Hales' most compelling work to date. Such subtly soulful tunes as "7 Keys," "Arrivals," "Good Goodnight" and "When I Finally Get My Own Place" balance adult emotional insight and childlike wonder, and are squarely in the tradition of such introspective pop auteurs as Brian Wilson and Paul Simon. Not coincidentally, Simon's '70s classic "Slip Sliding Away" receives a poignant interpretation from Hales on the album.
Words and Musicùwhich Hales co-produced with his brother and musical right-hand man Ben, who also provides guitar, bass and harmony vocals, and co-wrote several songsùis the product of an extended period of soul-searching that caused the artist to seriously reexamine his career priorities, after a life that's been spent making music.
Hales began writing songs at the age of four and won a music scholarship at 16, and soon saw his classical symphony Life Cycle performed by a 60-piece orchestra. He later achieved a modicum of U.K. notoriety with a pair of British rock combos, Ruth and The 45's, but eventually grew weary of band life. Hales began recording as Aqualung in 2002, and achieved some unexpected early success when his demo of the song "Strange and Beautiful" appeared in a Volkswagen TV commercial and immediately struck a chord with listeners. That fluke occurrence turned Aqualung from a modest lo-fi bedroom recording project into a successful major-label act.
Hales' first two U.K. albums, Aqualung and Still Life were combined to create Aqualung's first U.S. release Strange and Beautiful, which became a substantial stateside hit. Meanwhile, Hales demonstrated the flexibility of his songcraft by presenting his music in a variety of live formats, from solo piano performances to gigs with a four-piece band to concerts with a 17-person ensemble. The conflicting emotions generated by Hales' unexpected mainstream success were reflected in 2007's Memory Man, a densely packed, largely electronic meditation on the disconnection and dislocation that Hales was feeling at the time. Those emotions left the lifelong musician and songwriter unsure of whether he wanted to continue as a recording artist.
"I'd been on the road for about: three years, and I was as unwell and as unhappy as I've ever been," he recalls. "I thought, 'This is absolutely ridiculous, how can this be the result of success?' I felt like I was completely done, and like I had to stop. So I came home and hung out with my family and got busy producing and writing for other people, and had a think about: what I might do next. But then I started to write some songs, and I eventually came back to realizing how much I would miss it if I gave it up. I realized that I just had to find a way to carry on, but on my own terms."
Eventually, Hales and his brother Ben began cutting unfussed, stripped-down recordings