If, like Passenger, you are a famous folk-y pop outfit who likes to make very similar records, here is a piece of advice for you: release your albums around the turn of the decade. It works. Coldplay released their debut album Parachutes in 2000 to almost unanimous critical acclaim, ditto Travis with The Invisible Band in 2001, and in the same year, John Mayer’s debut Room For Squares. Fast forward 10 years and you have Mumford and Sons’s Sigh No More and Newton Faulkner’s Rebuilt by Humans in 2009, and Ed Sheeran releasing + in 2011. The albums released mid-way through the decade never seem to get the attention their 00 and 10 counterparts attract (think Coldplay’s X&Y or Mumford’s Wilder Mind). For some reason, fans of inoffensive poppy rocky folk seem to be bound to this 10 year cycle, the zenith of which signals the release of a whole host of good acoustic records.
Unfortunately, as eminently likeable as he and his music are, Passenger has fallen foul of the decade cycle, and as such, Young As The Morning Old As The Sea feels like a shot from the centre court of the decade that looks unlikely to score. “Passanger, it’s late September 2016, that’s such a nothing time to release a chilled out acoustic record”, I shouted at the stereo… Really, I did, ask my housemates.
The opening lyrics of the record show that Rosenberg is trying to perch on the end of a timeline of folk music greats: “When you’ve got nothing, / Free wheeling and free falling”. The hubris of this twin reference to Bob Dylan and Tom Petty risks distracting attention from what is a very listenable track. As the record unfolds the electric guitar comes to the fore, perhaps again in reference to Dylan’s electrification. But the guitar work is actually very good in its own right. Tracks like If You Go and Anywhere feature twangy telecaster rhythm work and reserved John Mayerish solos which left me eagre for more.
The highlights of the record are Somebody’s Love and the title track, the former showing Passenger’s signature flair for emotive, melodic balladry, and the latter featuring a strange, ambient, almost California Dreamin’ style guitar riff with a spine-tingling vibraphone chiming beneath.
Sadly the second half of the album doesn’t stand up to the first. Beautiful Birds will certainly have couples singing along as they gaze into each others eyes at concerts, but it’s not much use to anyone else. By the time we reach the closing track Home we have crashed head long into an emotionally manipulative sob fest. You know that cousin that you only see at Christmas who says their favourite film is Marley And Me? They’d love this song.
Young As The Morning Old As The Sea, then, is a quarter classic Passenger, a quarter failed folk parody; a quarter lovable millennial pop, and a quarter clichéd crooning. It’s impossible to actively dislike this genre of music, but in this case the timing of the release and the execution of the record have made it impossible to love as well.