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Eleven studio albums in, Sexsmith is no longer the "next big thing" in traditional songwriting. The Canadian has settled into a cosy niche as respected craftsman admired by the likes of Elton John and Chris Martin, his songs lending titles to Nick Hornby books, his work covered by Rod Stewart, Elvis Costello and Tom Jones. Recently a duet with Michael Bublé filled his coffers, and it was hearing what producer Bob Rock (previously known for rather heavier offerings with Metallica and Mötley Crüe) had done with Bublé that convinced him the former head-banger could usher his ballads onto the airwaves.
In that respect the album is a success, as its smooth, clean, unruffled soundbeds allow Sexsmith’s knack with McCartney-esque melodies and faintly melancholy message-of-hope lyrics to waft pleasantly across the room. Goodness knows what Bublé put in Rock’s tea, but it wasn’t hardcore. Long Player Late Bloomer is mellifluous but sometimes cloying: a granny-friendly showtune like Love Shines could be something an X Factor finalist would belt out a verse of, or one of Elton’s out-takes from The Lion King. There’s nothing in the couplets here to scare the horses either. As a lyric about small-town dreams it makes Paul Simon’s My Little Town read like Chuck Palahniuk.
An inoffensive country-rock tempo sets the tone from opener Get in Line, a none-too-impassioned, token stab at rainy-day misery. In Miracles he suggests "there are miracles appearing in broad daylight to a cynical world so blind", but there are few in evidence here. Believe It When I See It boasts a little more Tom Petty-ish muscle; you can almost imagine Roy Orbison shifting gears through this. More depth can be discerned on the autobiographical title-track, in which Sexsmith addresses early midlife crisis by advocating turning the record over. The "song is my saviour" and he’s "heard the penny drop".
It seems he’s decided the way forward to consolidating his status as national treasure of the Songwriter’s Republic is caution and conservatism. While the album’s polished and pristine, it also feels dated and somewhat lacklustre, any true inspiration placed on hold. This is Elton Ron.
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