Album review: Rag’n’Bone Man - Human
10:17 14 February 2017
The bear-sized Brightonian’s debut has awards-givers frothing at the mouth. Does it match such high hopes?
This heavily-tattooed giant of a man, aka Rory Graham, has probably popped up on most people’s radars by now, having been narrowly denied the 2016 Christmas Number One spot with the album’s title track (as the bestselling and most downloaded single that week, it lost out on streams).
And if you’ve not tired of Human already, you’ll likely still think fondly of the warm glow it gives you inside as his rich, evocative bellow and gospel backing get you off the hook – Hey, “don’t put the blame on me”, alright?
Released in the wake of that huge hit and amid the bluster and fervour of awards season, the LP is… well, a bit of a disappointment.
Graham’s most obvious strong suit is that voice – combining the acrobatics of Cee-Lo Green with the honest, earnest mahogany of Gregory Porter, he can convey fragility, warmth, grit and soul.
But his back story of involvement in a hip-hop troupe, and starting out rapping and singing in blues clubs as a teenager, suggests an artist with more to say than is apparent here.
Skin is a good example; unashamedly pop with lashings of uplifting, gospel-backed strings and organ buffed to an immaculate sheen. Graham’s bittersweet, lovelorn lyrics lie on top but they’re frustratingly flimsy.
It’s fine on first listen but the law of diminishing returns quickly sets in. Ego is built on a funky, scattering drum beat, finger-clicks and simple piano motif – the perfect bedding for a sassy and snappy takedown of a “Mr Know-It-All”. But the slinky brass feels painted on, and Graham’s rap – the only one to feature – is competent at best.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that too many meddlers have hermetically sealed the ‘real’ Graham in some polished but ultimately unrewarding soul-pop.