“21 years on this planet summed up in 39 minutes” – A dissection of one of 2018’s strongest debut records.
It is often difficult to find one’s life remotely comparable to that fairy tale bullshit we naively lapped up as children, as the camera pans out; London, in its density, has swallowed you up. Occasionally tripping over a rogue curb — seriously, who put that there? — and erratic power walks approach the threshold of socially unacceptable jogging. You find yourself becoming more uncharacteristically uptight by the second, and suddenly any form of living or inanimate obstruction is, frankly, an utter nuisance. In actual fact, any minor embarrassment at rush hour could cause a person to explode. In general, London seems devoid of that romance, compassion and sunshine that we’re all deeply craving for, in city life; the people at the end of their tethers, totally done with all this Great British bipolarity, carrying on anyway.
It is by no surprise then that London’s Matt Maltese has a vibe that’s a bit like a British Andy Williams on a comedown throughout his debut album, Bad Contestant. Closet lovers of Bublé around the country, rejoice, for here is an artist that you can proudly, publicly appreciate.
For those of you who didn’t know, Maltese is also a poet, and the characteristically dry and self-deprecating humour consistent throughout his poetry, has, thankfully seeped into his lyrics too in this album, reminiscent of perhaps one of his self-confessed greatest influences, Leonard Cohen. There is also a refreshingly modern perspective in his writing, with some moments bolder than others, such as when he claims: ‘I have heard that Jesus was a very handsome girl’, in Greatest Comedian, within which he also calls God ‘the greatest comedian’ he knows, for intentionally putting his current love interest ‘so far away’ — whatever happened to the gentleman’s code, man?
The Bad Contestant in question, is revealed in the title track to be — you guessed it — Maltese himself, and we are offered further assurance that he is, indeed, a hopeless-romantic, aimlessly chasing yet another (or perhaps the same?) love interest. The chorus ever so sightly draws comparison to that of Busted’s Year 3000, but it is clear that this was by no means Maltese’s intention [loosens tie nervously]. Despite his seemingly unfortunate love life and lack of self-confidence, Maltese delivers each track in a commanding and assured manner, and there is even the occasional whiff of attitude: ‘I can always passively aggressively put you in a song’, he shrugs in Sweet 16.
Stand-out tracks include: Like a Fish, which features strong comparisons to Leonard Cohen’s True Love Leaves No Traces, a beautiful, ebbing string arrangement, and a laugh-out-loud moment, when Maltese, very matter-of-factly, tells a girl ‘you need etiquette lessons’, after she invites a rival lover to his show — a cruel betrayal! Maltese continues to put himself down, as he concedes ‘he’s so much taller than I ever will be’, and regrets: ‘I wish that I could fill his shoes, but I’m only a seven…’. Another familiar thought comes when he admits, totally defeated, that ‘she’s probably screwing him now’ and that he will ‘never be what she wants’ — the man is a realist.
Undoubtedly the grandest, most powerful, and most moving track on the album, Less and Less is a truly beautiful ode to lost love; love reclaimed, like everything, by time. He muses, melancholily, on a young love, and pays tribute to their ‘innocence’. ‘I’ll feel settled in a simple sense, as I think of you less and less’, he wisely confesses. The song reaches its crescendo in the middle 8, as he heart-wrenchingly reminisces on ‘the warm nights with love in [his lover’s] eyes’. It is in this song that his tenor voice, smooth as butter, truly comes into its own, soaring with a devastating passion, utterly invincible.
The following track, Misery, initially bears an uncanny resemblance to the Stereophonics‘ Mr Writer, however, over the swaggering, Dido-esque 90s beat, his double-tracked vocals possess a self-assured attitude that drive the track forward. The track’s arrangement, particularly focusing on the electric guitars and the general production aesthetic, sounds like it’s freshly borrowed from the latest Arctic Monkeys’ record.
A rereleased Matt Maltese classic, Strange Time, offers another laugh-out-loud image, at his expense of course, when his lover is said to ‘laugh’, as he’s throwing up in the nightclub. Here, Maltese also admits, ‘I’m too old for my age’, which is certainly our impression, judging by his emotional and intellectual capacity, and his clear appreciation for the old.
The jolliest song on the album, Guilty, makes way for the other shining star of the album: As the World Caves In. Again, the key of the song is perfectly suited to the upper-ranges of Maltese’s voice, complementing its grandeur — ‘Oh, girl, it’s you that I lie with, as the atom bomb locks in. Oh, it’s you I watch TV with, as the world […] caves in’, he belts. The song is majestic, with an immense, crashing arrangement, and explosive drum fills, depicting the sheer scale of catastrophe and destruction at Armageddon.
The final track, Mortals, brings the album to an appropriate sense of closure, littering fears of humanity’s failures to look after the planet: ‘should’ve bought the electric car’; ‘maybe we’d have hit it off if old Mother Earth hadn’t got so hot’. The song reaches a spectacular Pink Floyd-esque climax, with the string section searing through the mix, and a poor piano that sounds like it’s being hammered to pieces, until everything becomes dissonant, entangled and indistinguishable, moments before the album is abruptly cut.
There is something refreshingly classic about the arrangement of the music behind the man, and it almost begs the question: what would Matt Maltese sound like with a full orchestra? One would confidently guess that he’d sound pretty spectacular indeed. Throughout the album, complex songwriting for the sake of complex songwriting gives way for great songs. What is clear is that Matt Maltese is a great songwriter and lyricist, and he knows what people will like, and he knows what people can relate to. All of this in mind, he stays true to himself and delivers a debut record that, whilst being conventionally pop, is made up of great songs that will surely appeal to the masses. Armed with a voice of liquid gold, this album seems to be but the tip of the iceberg of what this man has to offer. Ladies and gentlemen: Mr Matt Maltese.
By Alex Griffiths