Album Review: Tom Grennan: Lighting Matches

‘Setting your ears alight with incredible musicality, ‘Lighting Matches’ burns brightly right to the end.’

Re-intro to Tom:
Over a year ago I introduced you to, at the time, an emerging artist by the name of Tom Grennan. When you saw the name back then, you may not have taken too
much notice. If you did, you clearly know great music when you hear it! When you just saw that name again, the chances are you are very much aware of him. After success with his EP releases including ‘Something in the Water‘ and ‘Found What I’ve Been Looking For‘ as well as numerous festival appearances and tour dates, the release of Tom’s debut album ‘Lighting Matches’ sees him take his red hot musicality turn it into a roaring fire.

Album Review:
Throwing us unapologetically into initial flames of ‘Lighting Matches,’ ‘Found What I’ve Been Looking For‘ makes for the perfect, no-nonsense opening track. Being such a fan of it when it came out in 2017, it’s a fantastic way to kick off an album which sees Tom combine his tracks to date with new, previously unreleased ones. Highlighting this approach from the get-go, this opener is followed by his 2018 release, ‘Royal Highness‘ which demonstrates what we can expect.

Full of infectious guitar lines, rhythmically ticking rim-shots and Tom’s trademark gravelly vocal, it immediately sounds like a hit on its own. No wonder it received so many radio plays! The musicality is incredible. Balancing powerful textures and more refined ones, it brings a huge sense of anticipation to not just the track, but the album. Has the album in fact peaked at track 2? Of course it hasn’t but with Tom giving everything he has – including a gospel-esque breakdown section in addition to his rocky filled sound – you do wonder what more he can give us.

Providing the most musical of answers, Track 3 ‘Barbed Wire‘ offers us a rock-blues influenced sound. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for Tom’s vocal, you probably wouldn’t know it was one of his tracks. Composed in a way which features countless big-band influences, it’s an incredibly refreshing surprise to what has come before. Don’t get me wrong, this is no sultry ballad. Not in the slightest. But with harmonised horns bringing call and response melodies, it completely transforms his music and takes it into the most unexpected of directions.

Following the opening trio of powerful tracks, Track 4 ‘Run in the Rain‘ sees us get a few moments to catch our breath. Here, rather than the power coming from the whole sound, it comes from the touchingly impassioned tone within Tom’s vocal. Showcasing his contrasting musicality yet again – and may I remind you this is only the first quarter of the album – Tom takes us on an emotive journey. Beginning relatively humbly, with his vocal set to sparser accompaniment, the track is one that continually builds and develops into a cinematic score like sound. With it’s luscious strings and ever-increasing drama, it drowns you in musicality reminiscent of the greatest of film themes.

‘You can’t prepare yourself enough for where Tom’s music heads off to.’

Fusing the album’s elements to this point, Track 5 ‘Abroad‘ sees the combination of continuously warm strings, sky-high trumpet lines and Tom’s raspy vocal. The power is most definitely back – in all areas – but with snare dominant patterns suggesting otherwise, we are encouraged to move with controlled vigour. Like everything to this point, it demonstrates that Tom’s skills in creating the right level of ebb and flow within individual tracks – as well as an album – is something that appears second nature.

Heading toward the mid point we are greeted by the album’s title track. To be honest, it’s not exactly what you may have been expecting. Why? Well because ‘Lighting Matches‘ is the opposite to what the album has given us. It’s in no way a powerhouse track. Nor does it fully showcase what has come before. What it does do though in a relaxed, almost country-esque sort of way, is provide us with a reserved, yet crowd pleasing chorus and a subliminal reminder of the wide ranging influences Tom takes inspiration from. Pushing this further, Track 7 ‘Lucky Ones‘ sees the sound become stripped back and turn into a down-tempo power ballad. Set to a stylish accompaniment of strings, dominant piano and selective percussion, Tom’s vocal effortlessly entices you. However, this is no match for what is still to come in the album. Think you’ve heard everything? Think again.

No-nonsense from the start and containing inferred drama through use of twangy guitar and assertive, pace encouraging syllables, Track 8 ‘Sober‘ gives us everything we can hope for. Building to a full-on, polyrhythmic, celebratory chorus, the opening is full of anticipation. However, no matter how much you prepare, you can’t prepare enough for where it takes off to. I’ve no clue where Tom get’s his ideas from, but I don’t know of any other artist that could combine pounding bass lines with orchestral decorative melodies and tango-esque rhythms and make it sound like an absolute banger of a track! Honestly I’m not joking!

Allowing us to ‘sober’ up, Track 9 ‘I Might‘ takes us back the lighter elements of the album and showcases Tom’s real knack for songwriting. This may seem a weird time to highlight it – especially given that it has been apparent throughout – but here it really stands out. Maybe it’s because it feels the most ‘mainstream’ – with it’s relatively simple chord progression and obvious story-filled lyrics – or may be it’s something else. Either way, it connects with you on a more personal level than any other track. It’s a wonderful addition to the album, and while heavily exposed, it’s a track which has the strength to stand alone.

‘It’s a heady mix of increasingly gritty musicality.’

Bringing a surprisingly 60’s edge to the sound via it’s reverby guitar centred opening, Track 10 ‘Make ’em Like You‘ takes us back into a more up-beat direction. It isn’t pacy though. It’s perfectly mid-tempo and set to a gently infectious accompaniment, Tom’s more restrained vocal works brilliantly. It most definitely isn’t a track that hits you in the face like others though. Instead it provides a rare, but a no less musical opportunity to sit back and just enjoy the sound.

Moving to Track 12 – via a stylishly re-mastered version of the previously reviewed ‘Something in the Water‘ – ‘Little By Little Love‘ takes us in a more acoustic direction. Cleverly placed toward the end of the album, it’s relaxed nature conjures up an atmosphere that may be likened to a ‘torches in the air’ moment near the end of a gig. Containing subtle harmonic changes and warmth filled backing vocals, the sound encourages you to share in the developing sense of togetherness and the unique moment being created. Thankfully for us though, we can of course experience it whenever we like, and the ‘gig’ is still a way from it’s end.

As with the other previously released tracks on the album, Track 13 ‘Praying‘ sounds incredibly in sync with everything else. Considering it was featured on Tom’s 2017 EP ‘Release the Brakes’ you could interpret this as he knew exactly where his music was heading, or that his artistry was on the money from the start. Either way, it doesn’t matter as with some infectious lyricism, and encouraging rhythms, those torches aren’t just in the air, they are full-on swaying to the groove within.

Ensuring that that swaying doesn’t cease, Track 14 ‘Secret Lover‘ provides yet more grin-creating musicality. Dripping with coolness, strut-inducing bass lines and syncopated chords combine with dominating, distortion affected guitar lines resulting in an increasingly heady mix of gritty musicality. Filled with the lyrical cheekiness which drew me to Tom’s music initially, it’s the perfect precursor to the previously reviewed ‘Sweet Hallelujah‘ and a closing, touchingly acoustic version of ‘All Goes Wrong‘. Setting your ears alight with incredible musicality, Lighting Matches burns brightly right to the end.

Follow Tom Grennan on: Twitter
Listen to Tom Grennan on: Spotify
Find out more about Tom Grennan’s music at: EP Review: Tom Grennan: Something in the Water and EP Review: Tom Grennan: Found What I’ve Been Looking For’

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