Brit soul star serves up the goods on glossy debut
Six foot two, big boned and wreathed in ink, Rory Graham looks like nobody’s idea of a mass-market superstar. With his scowl and his tats, the artist otherwise known as Rag ’n’ Bone man more closely resembles a bouncer enjoying a well-deserved weekend away at a biker convention.
“People think I’m scary because I’m a big dude and I’m covered in tattoos,” Graham said recently, complaining that his heft and intimidating aura had fostered mistaken assumptions regarding his music.
In truth, he’s miles from the stereotypical metal growler many have taken him for. Thirty-one-year old Graham is a sweet soul boy, with a voice that suggests a y-chromosome Emeli Sandé, and a carry-on bag full of big-hearted ballads with Adele-scale potential.
Graham’s debut album has materialised amid considerable hype. The title-track was a pan-European number one last summer (from Wallonia to Slovenia it shot to the top like a bullet), while the Sussex native was recently awarded the Brit’s Critics Choice Award for upcoming new artist (joining a club that counts Adele and Sam Smith as members).
The singer’s debut album is machine-tooled to build on these achievements. With production by Mark Crew (Bastille) and Jonny Coffer (Beyonce, Naughty Boy), Human is at pains not to put a foot wrong, with songs that ooze commercial appeal and portray Graham as a little boy lost tiptoeing through a world of heartache.
He has the pipes no question, with ‘Bitter End’ showcasing his facility for a bluesy ache and ‘Innocent Man’ (not a Billy Joel cover, crushingly) confirming his prowess as slow-jamming roots-rocker. In addition to the title track, big chart moments abound, from Adele-esque power ballad ‘Grace’ to the stomping ‘Arrow’.
Ironically, if Human lacks anything it is rough edges. Much of the individuality has been sandpapered away, resulting in a record so slick it doesn’t give those of more esoteric or avant-garde persuasion much to hang onto. Graham may be understandably fed up being mistaken for a terrifying oik who wants your lunch money: to these ears, his response has been to play it justa little bit too safe.