Sympathetic Stupid

Friday, September 02, 2005

Sime Nugent: The Undertow

There seems to be something missing from this album. It's nice. But for me it never gets any further.

Nugent's clean acoustic music oscillates between blues, country and folk. He does the acoustic singer-songwriter thing well; as always, this raises the question of why the likes of Jack Johnson or John Mayer have been quite so popular. The answer must be the hype. They certainly share obvious influences, say Nick Drake, or Dylan, or even James Taylor.

All the songs are very listenable from the start, which by my theory of Musical Diminishing Returns says that they won't last. And that's basically what happens. They tell nice stories, the production's very smooth, Nugent's voice wanders nicely over the music, hitting all the notes, organ, piano, harmonica, banjo noodle away in the background...

But the emotion is mostly missing. I think I'm aligned more to female voices at the moment (Joanna Newsom is working better than Sime Nugent), but he seems to fall into the bluesy trap of singing well but with style replacing real emotion. Emotion is hard, doubtless, but also necessary when the music's not spectacular and the voice has to carry the day. It just seems like he's almost got what it takes but isn't quite getting to the heart of the songs.

Still a nice album.