X Factor winner turned tortured soul, Matt Cardle is the first champion of the ‘talent’ show to have not signed exclusively with Simon Cowell’s bland, blood-curdling Syco Music label. Instead, the painter-decorator famed for wearing a hat and gyrating with Rihanna in the final, chose a joint venture with the more credible Columbia Records, which would (seemingly) allow him to spread his artistic wings much more than cover versions of Katy Perry and Rihanna.
In my opinion, Cardle should receive a knighthood for preventing Syco Music churning out yet another ‘Winner’s album’ and inflicting it on the ears of anyone that happens to find themselves listening to commercial radio. Yet while Simon Cowell may be the devil (though this has not yet been proven), you cannot doubt his commercial success, and those that cross him soon fall by the wayside into a pit of oblivion (or Hell). So is the album any good? Kind of.
‘Letters’ is thankfully not choc-full of cover versions or X Factor performances. Hurrah! Obviously, as expected, the Winner’s Single, ‘When We Collide’, a cover of Biffy Clyro’s ‘Many of Horror’ is stapled onto the end of an album which, surprisingly, is not as bad as you might think. Stay with me.
The album opens with ‘Starlight’, a pop-esque, toe-tapping song that would get all the mothers dancing around the kitchen and singing dreadfully out of tune. ‘Run for Your Life’ is the first single off the album, and shows off Cardle’s stunning vocal range, something X Factor haters (of which there are many) will not know. He can sing. Very well. ‘All For Nothing’ again shows off just how good of a singer Cardle is, yearning and crawling up to the big notes that, after many attempts, I cannot reach.
‘Pull Me Under’ sounds like a mash-up of everything so far. It is the first instantly forgettable song on the album, and unfortunately not the last. ‘Amazing’ is the delicate, broken-hearted Cardle that Cowell can market at young girls and mothers alike. Somewhere in the performance of the song, I can see Cardle rising from a stool. Yes. It’s that sort of song. ‘Faithless’, whilst being the name of a very good dance act, proves to be a less-than-impressive version of songs we have already heard. Cardle’s voice is being exploited (in a good way), but so is the album’s lack of inventiveness (in a bad way).
Thankfully, arise ‘Beat of a Breaking Heart’. For the first time on the album, you forget Cardle is an X Factor winner, releasing his X Factor winner’s album. This is a very dark and very credible song. Had it been performed by someone less mainstream, it would be close to a classic. However, call me a pessimist, but I can see X Factor-style boot-camp compilations abusing this very good song. Cowell has already taken note, so enjoy it while you can.
Trying to steer away from ultimate destruction, ‘Stars and Lovers’ follows, a more up tempo reasonably catchy but ultimately forgettable. It sounds too similar to Cardle’s previous songs, and the line “if I had a superpower, it would be to make you understand” is either genius or worthy of filling the sick bucket. Perhaps Cardle has softened my pessimism. Title track ‘Letters’ follow, yet another song heavily laden with acoustic guitars and ‘plinky-plonky’ piano (if you listen to it, you’ll know what I mean). Once more, as a stand alone song, it is probably quite good. But in an album of many, many similar songs, it gets lost.
‘Reflections’ sounds too much like an X Factor winner’s single for my liking. Listening to it evokes too many pictures of sparkles pouring down at the back of the stage, then the ticker-tape, then the other contestants pound onto the stage… *shudder*. Cardle lifts the credibility baton with ‘Walking on Water’, and runs towards the end of the album with ‘Slowly’, two songs that feel more like the music Cardle wants to make, but the fact they appear lumped in at the end, just before that horrid Winner’s single, suggests it’s not the direction Cardle is being sent in.
The album is not that bad. Honest. Cardle has broken free of some of the X Factor-shackles set upon him by Cowell by producing a darker, more personal album than talent show winners usually make. There are some hidden gems, such as ‘Beating of a Breaking Heart’ and the acoustic bonus tracks at the end of the album which remind listeners Matt Cardle is a very, very good singer.
Sadly, there are too many forgettable, similar tracks which for me spoil the album. At 18 singles (including acoustic versions), it is a lengthy stint and becomes a trawl at times. Perhaps if he sliced a few songs and condensed his creativity into a smaller, more personal 10-track album, we could be looking at the best of Cardle.
He has, without a doubt, made the most credible, most personal and most talented debut album of any X Factor contestant (that is a compliment, honestly), but I can’t see this winning him any new fans. Solid, at times verging on very good, but ultimately inconsistent and bland.
Matt Cardle’s album Letters was released on Monday and is available to buy now.