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A Place We Knew (Universal)

A preface to the coming commentary. It’s not so much that I’m not a violent man, rather that I’d be not much chop at it even if I were. I’ve been in four “fights” in my life: two of them being set upon by a bunch of (as it turns out, younger) blokes and leaving concussed, once, and blood-spattered, the other; once over a misheard lyric (Tavare’s Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel – and I was right); and once after pointing out to the southern Italian kid whose skin was exactly the same shade as mine that calling me a black West Indian Kallicharran wasn’t just repetitive, if rather missing the point that Alvin Kallicharran was of Indian background and had much the same brown skin as we did, but, as I was an untalented left handed batsman who admired the stylish Guyenese lefthander, this was essentially a compliment. So, anyway …

One shouldn’t really want to give Dean Lewis a slap after hearing his album. Not because he’s been badly behaved or offensive - oh heavens no - but because you wish he might be, even a little bit. Or a little bit angry, a little bit terse or aggrieved, a little bit fast and furious. Hell, I’d take a little bit vexed.

But there is no anger or resentment boiling in Lewis, no hurt so great or loss so vast he breaks down in despair, no love so overwhelming he must shout out his excitement or desire so strong he can barely contain his need. He is equable and mild, as easy on the emotions as his voice is easy on the ear. If you cut him he would bleed, but he’d probably apologise for any blood stains. Not that anyone would want to cut him, or hurt him in any way. Well, actually …

The further this album goes on the more there’s an overwhelming urge to grab the sweet-natured, sweet-voiced, (probably) sweet-laden Lewis and give him a few smacks to the cheeks. Come on man, give me something, anything, that doesn’t feel like you once listened to David Grey, and thought,” hmm, that’s a little intense man, relax”, or heard Ed Sheeran and decided “no, that’s a bit brisk for me, can we sit down?”.

Like George Ezra and Vance Joy, Conrad Sewell and that other bloke so boring I can’t even remember his name, Lewis traffics in ballads occasionally lightly disguised as songs on the move by the addition of carefully controlled rhythms. And like the rest of the Soft Boys* (TM pending) he offers mid-tempo songs occasionally disguised as songs on the rise by choruses which have probably been borrowed from Shepherd’s Christians-for-joy playbook.

He does swear – in Time To Go he says, wait for it, “fucking with my head”, the daring lad – and he doesn’t whine. And for that we should be grateful. But there has to be more to life than being the musical equivalent of the second friend in the rom-com: not the one with the quips, but the one who holds the bags; not the one who gets the second-best looking lead but the one who is on the edge of the wedding shot at the end.

This is most definitely a place we knew. And it is not any better in the retelling. Dean, you’re a lovely man, but come on, give me something. Anything. Don’t make me hurt you. Please.

A postscript to this commentary. I’m sure they have better things to do – like, maybe writing more exciting songs – but it’s nice of Dido (whose Still On My Mind was reviewed here a week ago) and Dean Lewis to provide headline writers and critics the quick and cheap basis of any critique with their album titles. Some of us who do both jobs thank you.

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