Clash was lucky enough to see Jack Garratt perform live at Glastonbury last year, just before the track ‘Breathe Life’ caught the ear of the British public. His act was impeccable, a perfect combination of earnest, rural troubadour talent and electronic wizardry. Even better, his voice sounded finer in the flesh than it did on record: a rarity in contemporary pop. Soon after he was playing to a sold-out Brixton Academy - and all this without even releasing an album. But then came the album.
If ‘Phase’ can be seen as an exercise in translating that live presence onto record, it has to be seen as only half successful. Some older tracks are present on the album (‘Worry’, ‘Weathered’ and ‘The Love You’re Given’) and aside from the almost-impossible-not-to-hear ‘Breathe Life’, these are the good ones. ‘Phase’ is a genuinely intelligent pop record. It’s almost a picture of where the singer/songwriter template is at right now – what a one-man-band can do with an array of instruments, both organic and electronic.
Yet it’s a work in progress. Over the course of ‘Phase’, Garratt traverses electro, trap, two-step, dubstep, acoustic ballads and sub-heavy UK bass. That’s a lot of influences to work with and at points the sound palate becomes overcrowded. But this an artist who’s clearly still cutting his teeth, and that’s no bad thing. There are some missteps on ‘Phase’. But when he gets it right, his idiosyncratic mishmash of genres is so pleasing you forget all about the album’s flaws.
Comparisons between Jack Garratt and Ed Sheeran are inevitable, but best avoided. Garratt’s voice deals with both tender melody and ferocious roars with an ease Sheeran would kill for. His songwriting is deeper and feels more impassioned. No surprise, then, that his roots are in acoustic blues. He might not have had the authentic blues upbringing full of strife and hardship (he’s from Buckinghamshire), but his voice has a certain bluesy soulfulness that’s appealing. Amusingly, on ‘Far Cry’, Garratt sounds eerily reminiscent of Justin Timberlake.
While one half of ‘Phase’ sounds complete and polished, the other sounds unfinished, and unsteady. But the songwriting quality of the better cuts and the raw talent that underpins their delivery brings a fire to the record. It might be a cliché to end on, but Jack Garratt is a talent that’s sure to blossom in the coming years.
Words: Alex Green
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