It’s been four years since Jack Garratt released his debut album to mass love and the weight of expectation that could well ruin the best of artists. And, almost unsurprisingly, this is exactly what happened to him. Touted as the one-stop shop set to change the face of alternative pop, Garratt toured relentlessly for his debut before disappearing just as quickly as he rose to prominence. Returning here with Love, Death & Dancing, Garratt is back with a promise of self-satisfaction and pride in his own worth.
There’s a fine line between receiving accolades and love from the masses and having a complete breakdown from all the attention. Unfortunately for Garratt, his success came all too quickly for a young guy hoping to just enjoy his music. In the wake of his debut, Phase, he has spoken openly about feeling like a fraud, releasing music that he wanted people to like, but ultimately left him feeling incomplete. Here on Love, Death & Dancing, Garratt is unashamedly proud of his release. And honestly, he should be.
Lead single “Time” is a welcome slow-burning diary entry that reflects on the depths of his self-doubt as he tries to reassure himself that he has time on his side to still do great things; whether in music or in life.
Garratt has spoken only about feeling like a failure, having not lived up to the hype everyone else had built up around him. “Time” is purely a chance for Jack to remind himself of the bigger picture and to not be caught up with minute details. Besides, the closing minute, horn and all, is nothing short of brilliant, so what’s to worry about?
“Mara” is six minutes of up and down beauty, full of classic 80’s guitar, a meandering synth backbeat, brought together brilliantly by Garratt’s vocals. There’s a lot going on and feels busy, but it seemingly works.
“Return Them to the One” is sprawling and busy, just like “Mara”. There are times when it sounds like Skin era Flume, whilst also being entirely original.
The crowning and most fun moment of the album comes on “Better”. A genuinely sad song disguised as a dance track, Garratt tricks the listener into having an unadulterated boogie, whilst actually dancing to what is essentially a suicide note; a cry for help. I listened to “Better” on repeat for the better part of two weeks after he released it earlier in the year. Not once did I realise the depths of his despair that the song is openly screaming. I’m also genuinely surprised it hasn’t been picked up by commercial radio. It’s a sublime and great pop track; albeit a little depressing.
As the album enters its middle stages, you slowly come to realise that the album is showcasing Garratt’s acceptance of self and the artist he wants to be. This is exemplified on “Get In My Way”, which follows much of the same trajection of “Time”, as it builds for three minutes before going cataclysmic in its dying stages.
“Mend a Heart” borders on RnB, with a relentless backbeat, while “Circles” follows the same basic structures that “Get In My Way” and “Time” both had before it.
“Anyone” is the hardest of songs to read, as it embraces an almost Freddie Mercury tone to its delivery, while its punchy chorus and middle verses leave you second-guessing everything else you’ve heard so far on the album. You finally think you’ve worked the track out, before Garratt seems to use every bit of his musical talent in the closing minute, with what is quite possibly the busiest outro you’ll hear this year.
Over the last couple of tracks, you are drawn to the tender side and sadness to his music, if indeed you weren’t listening to the lyrics. A loving ode to his wife, “She Will Lay My Body on the Stone”, focuses on Garratt’s inability to love himself whilst fully well knowing that all he wants is for his wife to be happy; whether with or without him. It’s basic piano and lyrics, but it works.
Closing out on “Old Enough” (surely it’s a Billy Joel and Queen love child?) and the sprawling seven minutes of “Only The Bravest”, Love, Death & Dancing is at times a little messy, but overall a complete and considered body of work.
Returning from the deepest of dark places, Jack Garratt should be proud of what he’s delivered here. Sometimes you forget that musicians are humans. To see him come full circle and accept himself is something truly great to hear and witness.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Love, Death & Dancing is out now.