With support from Rag N Bone Man and Johnny Lloyd.
In early 2014 a somewhat exhausted Tom Odell suddenly realised with some sense of horror that he had spent more than a year promoting songs from his debut album “Long Way Down”, the album which had propelled him to huge and seemingly inexorable success upon release the previous year.
Huge sales notwithstanding – the album went straight into the UK chart at No1, turned platinum and ultimately achieved a staggering 1 million sales - Odell also knew that the success of the album had meant that he hadn’t written any new material throughout the whole cycle of promotion and live shows. For such a hugely talented writer, whose first collection had seen him scoop an Ivor Novello Award for Best Songwriter, it was galling to think that the gestation period for the first set of songs – his whole adolescent and adult life, basically – might need to be condensed into a very short period of writing new material for his second album.
It’s a typical issue facing every creative artist – how to find the time to write a follow-up to an album which, in this case, was lauded by supreme songwriters including Elton John, Billy Joel and The Rolling Stones ,who invited Tom to support them at London’s Hyde Park.
The youthful diffidence which was so apparent when Tom Odell first appeared, with no expectations and no preconceptions, soon came to be replaced by idealism, stoicism and conviction that if you were going to do something then it should be done at your own pace.
So Odell did what many artists have often done before him, called a halt to the circus, booked himself a flight and went off to New York, where he rented a tiny apartment in the East Village, ultimately disappearing into a city where it’s easy to be a stranger and easier still to be alone. Dominated by a grand piano, this tiny apartment refuge in a city where he knew very few people, would come to inspire a regrouping of thought and intent, and ultimately a redefinition of what Tom Odell is all about.
This is where work began on “Wrong Crowd”.
Watching films by night and wandering the streets of Manhattan by day became only mildly schizophrenic when such a bucolic lifestyle had to be interrupted by small things like supporting Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden a few times. Life suddenly regained balance and, after that, the songs just poured out.
A brief return home in the Spring of 2014 saw Tom tour Europe and collect his prized Ivor Novello Award, but by September his wanderlust kicked in again and he left London, this time to LA where he rented an apartment in the back streets of Echo Park. It was in LA, home and adopted home to so many legendary singer/songwriters , that “Wrong Crowd” began to take shape.
With Jim Abbiss and Tom himself at the helm of production, the album’s sound evolved into a more rhythmic, energetic production.
Tom; “With the brilliant Jim Abbiss producing, I wanted the songs to sound big and dramatic; big strings and melodies emphasizing the songs further, rich in musicality and holding nothing back. I’d been touring for a few months by this point with my dear friend Andy Burrows(drums) who plays with such flair. His drums provided the darkness and excitement. On the track ‘Silhouette’ I had always imagined a big Gershwin-style introduction, which we recorded at Abbey Road. But most of the recording was done in Rockfield in Wales which provided the kind of quiet we needed to make such a loud noise.”
As recording continued, a narrative for the album began to emerge.
“The album follows a narrative of a man held at ransom by his childhood, yearning for it, yearning for nature. A desire for innocence in this perverse world in which he now lives. It’s a fictional story but the emotions and feelings are obviously ones I have felt – although the stories are elaborated and exaggerated. I wanted to create a world with a heightened sense of reality, like in a Fellini film.”
Always a film buff, Tom’s New York sojourn had expanded his huge interest in film as an art form. Work by Wong Kar-wai, Paolo Sorrentino, Terrence Malick, Wim Wenders and Fellini became the backdrop to his rather solitary New York life and inevitably influenced the album;
“The songs I was writing began being about isolation, growing up, trying to fit in. I began looking back and inwards, using myself as a starting point but letting my imagination run wild with a story. I imagined the music to be a soundtrack….that beautiful image of the weeds growing around the tree and suffocating it in ‘Thin Red Line’ by Malick, of man destroying nature, crucially forgetting that he is part of it. That began to resonate with me.”
The above is exemplified by the first single “Magnetised” which manages to express many of the intrinsic themes of the album in a gloriously explosive pop song, powered by hugely physical drumming. In truth , it’s a bit of a stomper
As the album progressed Tom began to draw up a script for a collection of films which follow the music. It was then that he got in touch with director George Belfield, with whom he quickly formed a symbiotic relationship. The pair travelled to South Africa to shoot the first part of the film, based on a character who is plagued by self destruction whilst living a hedonistic/nihilistic lifestyle. The film explores how that affects people around the protagonist.
“Ultimately his lifestyle destroys the only innocent thing he has left; his love. This closes the first section of the film, but the story will continue….”
The films are fascinating companion pieces to what is a hugely assured, confident and energized second album from a remarkable writer and performer who chose to do it his way because he chose to do it right. Four years ago Tom Odell was quoted thus, although the words still stand true today:
“Really, I’d love to live in a time when music gave people a real sense of elevation. When my music is sad I want it to be REALLY sad. When it’s happy I want it to feel euphoric…I suppose I want the record to express the heightened feelings and emotions we all get in our lives.”
“Wrong Crowd” does all of the above, and more.
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