Paul Epworth – Voyager

A pop-rap fusion that doesn't quite achieve lift off...

Released on Sony Music last week, 'Voyager' is the debut album of veteran record producer Paul Epworth.

If like me you spent the mid-2000s spoon fed a steady diet of po-faced British indie bands, then that name is likely to ring a bell. Epworth has had a hand in everyone from Bloc Party to Friendly Fires to Florence + the Machine, so it’s almost a shock that 'Voyager' is the first full length outing for such a stalwart of the industry. Though perhaps not as much as a shock as the revelation that Paul Epworth’s 'Voyager' is a rap album.

Well, sort of. Even within the album’s opening stretch, it’s clear that the man behind the project is pulling from several places at once. Back-to-back pop-rap anthems 'Mars & Venus' and 'Hyperspace' dissolve into the ambient pop of 'OBX' and 'Transmission', and before we’re giving time to breathe we’re ushered into all eight minutes of the title track’s nu-disco stomp.

As you might have already guessed from a quick glance at the tracklist, Epworth ties together these seemingly disparate genres under a loosely unifying banner of ‘space’. But despite all the cosmic bells and whistles, the subjects of the songs themselves tend to stay pretty earthly. After the album lurches into life with an Apollo mission countdown that is at best predictable and at worst unimaginative, Vince Staples riffs with recurring guests Elle Yaya and ISHMAEL on an interplanetary love; on 'Cosmos', Ty Dolla $ign croons “I tried to forget about you … Letting go ain’t easy” over 'Space Oddity'-esque strumming; Lil Silva isn’t so excited by the final frontier of 'Love Galaxy’, unless there's a certain someone there to ride his “rocket ship”.

Even on 'Where Do We Come From?' – the album’s emotional climax by default – hopes of its existential title landing any weight are dashed when the song’s hook yanks our upward glance inward before we have time to blink (“Where do we come from? / Do we all need someone?”).

If without the intergalactic frills Voyager looks no different to your by-the-numbers pop record, then who exactly are they for? Tracing the lush synth lines running through this album shows Epworth’s love affair with the retro electronics of the 1980s. But their pairing with the sensibilities of modern pop ends up feeling less like the 80s, and more like last decade’s 80s nostalgia. Let’s hope the next voyage is a little smoother.


Words: Sidney Franklyn

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