From the get go, please erase any thoughts of what an X Factor winner should sound like from your minds and listen with an open ear. Seeing as George Michael has already taken the title “Listen without prejudice”, this one should be subtitled “Really listen VERY CAREFULLY without ANY HINT of prejudice”. From the hurt of The Fire to the healing of Porcelain, Matt has shown that he has achieved what the X Factor should always have aspired to for their charges – enabling a talented artist to get exposure and go on and develop their own style and craftsmanship. Not be coerced and strangled by someone’s lowest common denominator idea of what might make Syco the biggest bucks. More fool them for not bigging up one of their most successful discoveries.
The album kicks off with an atmospheric swirl with In Chains, a song about struggling to move on from a failed relationship, which develops into a full on rock out, with the range of vocal prowess showcased early on. At one point he has a rare old yell “So why won’t you let me GOOOOOOO!” Heavens, get it off your chest Matt! It’s an eye widening piece of Darwyn ra-ra (Matt’s earliest “diamond in the rough” band). And there’s nowt wrong with that. While Matt does the acoustic ballad thing perfectly, some of us yearn for this heavier punch. Thank heavens it’s back with a bang.
It’s a magnificent opener, and what follows is a range of styles and influences which demonstrate Matt’s willingness to learn, collaborate and self improve through matching his talents with the skills of other songwriters, such as Ben Cullum, Brian McKnight and Connor Reeves. There’s something for everyone on the album, but it could possibly also mean there’s something for everyone to dislike. My own particular irritation is summer single Loving You (an opinion likely to get me sent to the Cardling equivalent of Guantanamo Bay). Whilst undoubtably mutually beneficial for both artists in terms of promo and the gossip it generated, as a standalone song for me it lacks the class seen in other tracks. And I’d better move on to other tunes because I can hear the handcuffs clanking…
A Little Too Late is a compelling and ambitious track. The instrumentation and control of the sound seems to have moved on from The Fire, and if he managed to string together a whole set of songs of this ilk, he could create something like the concept albums of the 70’s a la Mike Oldfield/Rick Wakeman, or a movie soundtrack.
No Matt album would be complete without a good ballad to touch the soul – Not Over You is, a bit like All That Matters from The Fire, so personal it’s tough to listen to at times, but particularly poignant because it’s the last time the Highbarn crew come together – Paul Bullen on keys, Ali McMillan on djembe and Anna Scott’s cello. A real thing of beauty.
Mel C once famously said that she was bought in to clean up Loving you because “Matt’s filthy”, well I’m pretty sure he saved up all his filth for Your Kind Of Love, a raunchy little number with definite “Cover your ears Mum” lyrics. Ridiculously catchy, it’s simply impossible not to have a good old Lalalala to this one. Can’t wait to see this live!
The album finishes with the mellow and moving title track Porcelain. The lyrics are just genius:
All the things in this life that you thought that you couldn’t bear,
It’s the pressure inside makes the diamond that’s shining there,
All the pain and the heartache can break you and shape you like clay,
Now you’ve come through the fire and that makes you porcelain.
Those of us with a few years on the clock have all had tough times, and it’s this conversion of emotional intelligence to songwriting that generates the loyalty and admiration Matt’s fans have for him. It’s an empathy thing.
A pinch of Portishead, a shimmy of Chic and a morsel of Mumford, all can be found in Porcelain, but it’s unmistakably Matt. If this doesn’t sell by the shed load the there’s something seriously wrong with the whole music system, because people simply do not know what they are missing.