Album Review: Lewis Capaldi – Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent
The Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of Twitter and most rapidly growing pop star to emerge from the UK since Adele surprises with a stripped-back debut which shows hints of greatness, but struggles to justify 12 songs of lethargic balladry.
It’s a miracle I ever listened to this album. Its title is a top contender for The Mic’s ‘Worst Album Name of the Year Award,’ an accolade I’m considering setting up purely due to Divinely Uninspired’s existence, and the idea of yet another ‘quirky’ pop singer-songwriter in 2019 is cause to screw up one’s face in distaste. Yet the 22-year-old Scotsman has consistently proven his worth as one funny fucker on Twitter, and his recent entrance at Radio 1’s Big Weekend to pro-wrestling legend Shane McMahon’s theme song ‘Here Comes the Money’ made it near-impossible for me not to give his actual music the time of day. And I’m glad I did.
The first thing to say about Divinely Uninspired is that it’s incredibly refreshing in two ways. Firstly, it’s not trend-hoppy by any stretch of the imagination (in contrast to his candid ‘relatable’ Twitter output), refusing to conform to the kind of trap-based minimalist emo-pop the popular music sphere has been saturated with in the past three years. And secondly, it manages to be incredibly dramatic without production the size of Avengers: Endgame or an Imagine Dragons record. It’s not a subversive album in any universe, in fact its 42-minute runtime offers little to no innovation whatsoever – but at the times when it plays to Capaldi’s strengths, it can make for an absolutely capald-ivating listen. (Anyone? No? Okay).
The instant-bullseye first track Grace wastes no time gripping the listener, the opening lyric “I’m not ready to be just another of your mistakes” immediately pouring watercolours into the emotional pallet the rest of the album paints with. Beginning to build with light but driving drums, the opener is one of the more stadium-sized pop anthems on the album, yet it sticks to a maximum of four instruments at any one time letting Lewis’ voice carry the narrative, as opposed to an overblown orchestral or gross EDM drop.
The second track Bruises brings the atmosphere right back down in a lament centred around the narrator’s Stockholm Syndrome-like emotional plight following the gruesome end of a flawed relationship. Upon first listen many of these songs feel like huge pop ballads, but when one spends more time with tracks like Bruises, it begins to fascinate how the broad anthemic scope of the album’s songwriting is backed up by remarkably low-profile instrumentation (in this case literally just piano chords), paving the way for Capaldi’s tremendous, seemingly untouched, vocal performances.
The two latest singles to come off of the album, Hold Me While You Wait and the stratospheric Somebody You Loved merely serve to cement the tingles of greatness felt on the album’s first two tracks. The former sees Capaldi play to his alluring relatability (something perhaps done too sparingly on this album considering his public persona) as he cries “I wish that I was good enough” as the song desperately drifts into its turbulent chorus. The latter, as a songwriting effort, unequivocally justifies its chart-smashing success, the light and dreamy piano-work and restrained lyrical casual-ism perfectly juxtaposing the immense vocal passion on the sticky hook.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album does at times lose the momentum provided by the opening four tracks, leaving the listener to contemplate Capaldi’s potential versatility beyond simply writing good ballads. Don’t Get Me Wrong is a swing too close to Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud to really turn any heads eight tracks in, the restrained vocal approach on the verses failing to play to Capaldi’s strengths, whilst Lost On You and the closing two tracks are too forgettable to make this album as concise as it could be. If Divinely Uninspired had been the nine-track emotional explosion it clearly needed to be, it might not have made quite as much streaming revenue (the money money money Capaldi has had no fear in showing his enjoyment of), but it would have made for a much more gripping and compelling listen.
I couldn’t conclude a review of Divinely Uninspired without giving a mention to Hollywood. The 9th track is the only glimpse of Capaldi’s songwriting talents beyond onesie-Netflix-takeaway breakup tunes, and it breathes enough life back into the tracklist as to prevent the last quarter becoming completely turn-off-worthy. It’s the one track on the album in which Capaldi reflects on lyrical themes beyond love gone wrong, the fresh combination of folky guitars, piano and drums giving the singer an urgency lost on much of the latter part of the album. Ideas of success, homesickness and an overwhelming sense of being plunged in at the deep end are woven beautifully into what remains in essence a love song, and more of this depth and personality are certainly necessary to maintain interest and vibrance in Capaldi’s music beyond his initial rise to proto-superstardom.
Well, this was a surprise. Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent (there, I said it) is a sure-footed start in the very young mainstream career of Lewis Capaldi. It’s 12 ballads. Some of them are great, one shows signs of future excellence, but none of them are bad. There’s no shame in cuddling up with your favourite Greggs baked snack and sticking this album on, even if you’re 20 years of age and should be revising for your Law School exams.