ALBUM REVIEW: Love, Death and Dancing – Jack Garratt

jack garratt album cover

Everyone who knows who Jack Garratt is, is desperately; anxiously, willing him to succeed with this new album… With all the charisma, whirlwind accolades and unbelievable multi-instrumental talent his first album brought, everyone expected the next would surely rocket directly into outer space. Stellar career here we come. Unfortunately, that trajectory didn’t quite go to plan. Not that there was any major drama, but just that the rocket wasn’t ready. It had some reservations. Some insecurities. Some minor implosions. The launch had to be postponed and rescheduled, and we’ve waited with baited breath for four years for Garratt 2.0.1

So today the space race is back on. Following the 2016 first album, ’Phase,’ finally the third album takes off… That’s right, third. You see his second he scrapped in 2017. He says he suffered from depression and anxiety, mainly from the pressure of his success – being BBC Introducing’s Artist of the Year (headlining their Reading and Leeds stage), Brit Awards Critics Choice, and Radio One’s Sound of 2016) and touring with Mumford and Sons… His subsequent struggle with his inner demons took him on a four-year wrestle, including this ditched album he describes as, “trash. It was awful. It was all bad,” explaining, “I wasn’t willing to accept myself in that moment, so I wasn’t willing to have a good idea.” Jack reeks of vast genius and ecstatic potential yet proves himself the perennial champion of self-sabotage. I’d love to hear that scrapped album – I have my suspicions that it’s actually really good.

OK so, back on the launchpad, we’re holding our breath like the first launch after Apollo 13. He does the sensible thing and lights each burner one at a time – releasing three EP’s that today will add up to the new album. Back in Feb the new single ‘Time’ launched. That moment of turning the key in the ignition – AKA Annie Mac premiering it as her Hottest Record (I’m sure they don’t have keys in space rockets, btw) must have been excruciating for him… What would it have done to him had it panned?  We shall never know as, thankfully, it was an absolute banger. Phew. Catastrophe averted.

So, Friday 12th June 2020 ‘Love, Death and Dancing’ takes to the skies and we get to enjoy the glory. The record is understandably a multi-sensory waltzer, a fairground ride of colours, flashes, beeps and beats. For all his inner wrangling, the man is outwardly loud, brash and constantly laughing. It follows that Jack doesn’t make good old songs that follow a calm verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, what he makes is a music Buckaroo out of explosive synth, banging pop and introspection. Pop it is; infectious and delicious, a real labyrinth of concepts and sounds to explore.

It’s like running around in a day-glo splattered Lazer Quest – you think you know where you are only to run into a painted wall or shoot yourself in a mirror. He’s the master of the build, using twists and turns to tease us through over an hour of bells and whistles, which is amazing, but sometimes during listening to the album I did wish he would occasionally acquiesce to a more traditional system and just let a strong chorus drop and stay dropped. Something more akin to a Mark Ronson. ‘Better’ is beautiful, balanced, banging track that most answers this criticism. ‘Time’ has a strong hook that makes the track memorable. ‘Old Enough’ is another fantastic belter where the fill button on the drum track gets more hammering than the Z and X keys on Daley Thompsons Decathlon. Unfortunately, there’s one synth sound – a four second fiddly run, that just grated one me. Dare I suggest it’s a bit over produced. There’s a reason a pop formula does often work… yet in his own words, this is “dance music for people who don’t go out.” So maybe that’s the thing. The audience is people who never fully, truly, ‘let go.’ People who love to keep listening and be surprised and kept on their toes – maybe wriggle a bit on their sofa – but never want to actually reach the point where they have to get up on the dancefloor. Garratt is definitely his own master. I can’t for one minute imagine him jumping through anyone’s hoops – and that’s why with his talent it’s going to be so exciting when he gets his own hoops crafted and lined up properly. Until then we probably don’t need slower tracks like ‘Return Them To The One,’ or the second half of ‘Get In My Way,’ which turns into a slightly R&B/gospel singalong. Or ‘She Will Lay My Body On The Stone’ which although nearly a pared back soul-exposing love song is worrying close to a Jack-Black-sings-the-musicals-esque improv. But give me ‘Circles’ any day of the week (after the intro anyway) – nice rhymes, meaningful lyrics, a catchy melody that bounces us along to the chorus which is tuneful, tense and emotional.

Don’t tell the label, but Garratt isn’t going to be your typical commercial success – not this album anyway. Enlisting the help of big-name producer Jacknife Lee was a good move, just not the silver bullet Island Records might have hoped. But that doesn’t mean he’s not good. He’s unique enough, quirky enough, talented enough to help redefine pop as he strikes out into unexplored galaxies. He doesn’t yet have the confidence to write the all-out number one banger. But this album is his journey where he’s getting to grips with all that, it’s an interesting, exhilarating, provocative flightpath. One that he’s travelling fully conscious, digging deep and learning fast along the way so there’s no reason why he still may not end up intergalactic. That he’s made it out the stratosphere is notably, and enjoyably, the right direction.

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