Self-reflection is probably one of the most grounding things someone can do in an attempt to better themselves. Whether it’s stuffing up at work, waking up completely ruined after a big night and wondering where it went wrong, or contemplating a failed relationship, being able to reflect and find those faults allows for quicker fixes, healing and a way forward to a better you. For the most part, Rag’n’Bone Man‘s new album Life By Misadventure is an album of reflection, as he looks back on the past couple of years of a life where things haven’t necessarily gone his way.
A follow up to Human, his 2017 debut, Life By Misadventure allows Rag’n’Bone Man (real name Rory Charles Graham) to progress his soulful sound while utilising his gospel-esque voice to its full extent and capability. Opener “Fireflies” ends off just as it starts, with nothing more than 30 seconds of vocals and acoustic guitar. Joined through its middle two minutes with calming backing vocals and harmonies, these elements hold the song together and gets the album off to a solid start.
Followed up with “Breath in Me”, a track cut from the same musical cloth as “Fireflies”, with his earthy vocals once more setting the scene for the track’s 3-minute run. With content centred on being able to comfortably and confidently let someone go, “Breath in Me” is honest and relatable from the start to finish.
The tears come thick and fast on “Fall in Love Again”, a song obviously written by someone who’s struggling with commitment and a broken heart. The chorus ‘don’t stay too long/I don’t want to fall in love again/ I know I said I’d rather be alone/ but I just got used to being on my own’ showcases pretty clearly the heartbreak and angst Rag’n’Bone Man has felt over the past three years, a time in which his marriage faultered. “Fall in Love Again” is the strongest song in the first half of the album.
An obvious single on Life By Misadventure is “Anywhere Away from Here”, featuring P!nk. A solid and tender piano-led ballad, you can picture the song featuring on every TV drama as the main character gets killed off or equally wistfully leaving their one true love. Doing his best impersonation of early Bon Iver in the bridge, it’s pretty obvious Rag’n’Bone Man is an emotional man with a pretty bloody strong voice.
For the most part, Life By Misadventure is downbeat without being simple or boring. Its focal point is the vocals, and that’s rightly justified. Songs like “Alone”, “Lightyears” and “Old Habits” are equally downbeat and pure, with a mixture of guitar picks, vivid storytelling and every now and then an all too short foray into the harmonies heard earlier on “Fireflies”.
And while these songs are the heart of the album, the true fun shines through the upbeat tracks filling the middle third of the album. “Crossfire”, “Changing of the Guard” and “Time Will Only Tell” break up the overwhelming tenderness of the album, as Rag’n’Bone Man shows his fun side, while still maintaining the themes of honesty and sincerity that powers the album.
Undoubtedly the big single of Life By Misadventure is “All You Ever Wanted”, a driving three minutes that sits somewhere between Hills End era DMA’s and the guitar-driven mastery of The War on Drugs. Being so different from the rest of the album, it’s pretty obvious why “All You Ever Wanted” was the made-for-radio, big single from the album.
As tender and torn as it is strong and comforting, it’s blatantly obvious that Rag’n’Bone Man has had plenty of faults and missteps occur in his life between albums one and two. It’s these misadventures that have shaped the stories used to create the 14 songs on the album. With plenty of self-reflection happening over the past three years, Rag’n’Bone Man has grown as an artist and human being to deliver a second release that should cement his spot in the English folk and soul scene.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Life By Misadventure is out Friday 7 May.