In case the serious, monochrome album artwork hadn’t already suggested it, Ben Howard’s most recent offering is very different to 2011’s Every Kingdom.
This was made most apparent upon the release of the near 8-minute sprawling lead single ‘End of the Affair’, the album’s unprecedented highlight. On ‘Only Love’ he lovingly states that “Darling you’re with me, always around me”, but lamentably the tables have turned as now his “bed/It’s free of your laughter/Alive in the halls”. These lyrics of corrosive romance are painfully depressing, and the song’s breakdown into a Spanish Sahara-esque climax becomes their musical embodiment.
Album opener ‘Small Things’ has a distinct Americana feel, with echoey guitar chords layered beneath Howard asking broodingly “Has the world gone mad/Or is it me?”. The morose and introverted tone continues on ‘Rivers in Your Mouth’, where the tempo exactly mimics that of ‘Keep Your Head Up’, but instead of the sing-a-long chorus, he claims that “I am not myself today/I am not feeling okay.”
‘In Dreams’ and ‘She Treats Me Well’ unfortunately don’t reach the high standard of the other tracks, presenting something of a mid-album lull. Thankfully though, this is quickly turned around with ‘Time is Dancing’. If you weren’t already convinced that this is a guitar record, this track begins with the kind of scattered guitar rhythms you would usually attribute to the likes of Interpol.
The end pairing of ‘Conrad’ and ‘All Is Now Harmed’ is perfect for this album, rising and falling like the swell of the surf. Despite keeping the album’s overall melodic tone, these two tracks offer a sense of hope, bleak song titles aside. There’s some much needed light to be found at the end of the tunnel.
I Forget Where We Were may not be as uplifting as his previous work by any stretch of the imagination, but is often as anthemic, and certainly offers a level of depth that may have gone unnoticed before. The movement from radio-friendly, big hook love songs may not sit well with fans he found via chart-poised means. The album itself reached number 1 in the UK Album Charts, but the singles are unlikely to reach such dizzying heights.
Broad-brush comparisons between I Forget Where We Were and Every Kingdom are a waste of time as they are just so different, yet they are both very good records, and this most recent offering is certainly a worthy sophomore.
As mentioned earlier, this change in tone may not be to everyone’s tastes, but for all those who love a good depressing album to go with the depressing weather, this is the one for you.