Throwback Done Right
Scottish singer Paolo Nutini made waves in the UK with his first two albums, and his third release, Caustic Love, sets him up for more success. With an old-school 1960’s R&B/funk vibe, Caustic Love offers a refreshing surprise for the listener at every turn, and a throwback musical experience done right.
Each track on Caustic Love has its own individual character. This is accomplished using a diverse selection of instruments– featuring horns and harp on “Someone Like You” or prominent bass on tracks like “Fashion.” Every song offers something different, making each track fresh, yet the entire album fits together like a puzzle. Even the two interludes, however short, are funky and fun to listen to.
Nutini’s voice is not particularly singular or unique, but he uses it effectively, using a strained quality to emphasize intense moments or a lighter timbre for more laid back lyrics. In addition, female voices appear on tracks such as “Let Me Down Easy,” Janelle Monae guests with a rap verse on “Fashion,” a choir of voices punch up important moments, and spoken word appears on the interludes, further diversifying the sounds on the album.
Often deviating from traditional, simple harmonies and limited chord patterns, Nutini incorporates colorful dissonant notes or unexpected chord changes. These deviations add a colorful harmonic palette that often perks interest and ensures the listener is paying attention. Not to mention, it demonstrates an understanding of musicality beyond just a basic level.
Nutini’s musical expertise also extends to the construction of each song. Every verse builds into the chorus, and each successive verse and chorus build upon each other into the climax of the song by adding in additional instruments or voices. The result of this structure is a collection of coherent songs that are emotionally satisfying. The tracks longer than five minutes on this album especially benefit from this structure and avoid the tendency to be repetitive or excessive.
“Iron Sky” comes across as a modern day freedom ballad that could just as well have arrived on this album from the 1960’s. “And we’ll rise over love/And over hate/Through this iron sky/That’s fast becoming our minds/Over fear/Into freedom.” The horn section and a haunting female voice soar above the melody line build straight into spoken word and into the biggest chorus of the track with horns. The result is a stand out anthem that just happens to be over six minutes long.
With a throwback to the funk and R&B reminiscent of the 1960’s that is all his own, Paolo Nutini’s Caustic Love hits all the right notes for a well-worth repeating listen at full volume. The experience invokes the image of a haze of colored smoke with hands up in the air grooving along because, man, that Nutini gets it.