John Newman’s album begins in perhaps the most embarrassing way of any this generation. As strings soar in the background, Newman reels off a list of artists while some robotic voice that sounds like the London Underground declares the decade. It’s embarrassing firstly because Newman is automatically juxtaposing his album among the greats (Maximo Park excluded), and secondly it makes the ensuing ‘it’s all for you’ refrain seem utterly trite. At this moment, it’s a tribute to mediocrity.
Truth be told, John Newman is someone who really has passed us by. We’re not massively sold on the Rudimental collaborations, and both Love Me Again and Cheating have that TV-friendly quality that isn’t as much the male Winehouse that people are proclaiming so much as this year’s Alex Clare. It’s a painful realisation that these songs will soundtrack any ‘hashtag-lad’ sequence on telly for the next 12 months.
And it’s all a shame, because Tribute genuinely has moments of brilliance. There’s no denying that Newman puts his all into that bravura vocal – the only thing that stops Tribute being Radio 2 as run by Mark Ronson – but there’s a routine that gets a bit tiresome over a dozen tracks. By the end of it, it’s hard to isolate those moments of brilliance because they’ve been lost in the over-produced, over-trumpeted whole.
At his best, John Newman is an improvement on Plan B minus the wordplay, but at his worst – which goes from Running to the close – it’s the sort of average schtick that won James Arthur the X-Factor last year (who, incidentally, will now have his work cut out for him). Still, credit where it’s due: on the basis of songs like Try, the man knows who to craft a rousing, feelgood radio-friendly chorus.
If it were about 4 tracks shorter, Tribute could have been quite the impressive debut. But as it loses steam towards the end, as the songs meld into one, it makes us long for something a little bit fresher. It’s got that old-time quality that will sell by the bucketload and, if anything, it’s a tribute to the one bittersweet thing we didn’t know we were missing: Adele doing Big Band Week.