Album Review: Jack Garratt’s Phase is impressively versatile
Mix some minimal alt-R&B grooves and forlorn piano ballads, pepper with underground electro warbles and crunchy palm-muted guitars, add a dash of dubstep, and sprinkle liberally with windswept confessional lyrics. Voila – you have Jack Garratt, an artist of unmistakable talent and impressive versatility.
The 24-year-old British singer-songwriter has already been feted as the hottest talent of the year. Last month, he won the BBC Sound Poll of 2016. On Wednesday he capped this by taking the Critics’s Choice Award at the Brits. Both gongs are based on a vote of tastemakers and journalists who have an uncanny knack of singling out talent on the verge of radio-jamming omnipotence (previous artists to win both awards include Ellie Goulding, Sam Smith and Adele, who it’s fair to say all did pretty well for themselves).
All this hype was amassed after a handful of singles and EPs – Garratt’s big artistic statement, Phase, dropped on the eve of the Brits win, promptly debuting at number three on the UK album charts.
It seems certain to climb higher in coming weeks. Phase is a minutely-crafted hybrid of contemporary trends – namely, smart neo R&B of the post-The Weeknd variety, and heartfelt, introspective balladry of the Ed Sheeran school.
Perhaps inevitably, Garratt is falling into the slipstream of last year’s earnestly hat-wearing Critics’s Choice winner, James Bay. It’s not an entirely fair comparison – there are many more colours at play in Garratt’s palette.
Tracking nearly every instrument and largely self-produced, Garratt is a canny 21st-century arranger with a deep sensitivity for contrasting textures. Far Cry is a yearning minimal vamp that flits schizophrenically between jazzy after-hours piano hooks, warbling bass buzz and desolate neon beats and blips. Moving the body and mind, it’s something you could dance to or sob to – all your post-club needs bottled in one.
Driven by a wailing, siren-like female vocal loop, haunting debut single The Love You’re Given smoulders seductively, while Breathe Life balances an intimate delivery and perfect pop hook. Darker club-inspired flavours emerge in the end stretch with Chemical and Fire.
At times, all these elements can’t help feeling the wrong side of contrived. Complete with a “drink and smoke” reference in the first line, Weathered really could be a Sheeran parody. It’s far from Garratt’s only moment of self pity. “My nights are broken up by the sounds of women I’ll never meet,” begins the falsetto whine of breakout hit Worry. One suspects meeting members of the fairer gender won’t be such a problem anymore.
Still, while at times it might sound like the product of a focus group, Phase isn’t the latest release from a Stockholm hit factory, but the work of one man – a man with a multitude of talents, influences and feelings, all fighting to reach the surface on Phase. As time passes and instincts harden, one can only see Garratt’s gifts sharpening into clearer focus.
Updated: February 29, 2016 04:00 AM