Isn't it fantastic when a plan comes together? After impressing at intimate live shows last year, this reviewer tipped former Loverman Gabriel Bruce for greatness as part of a predicative feature for 2013. Then, reference was made to Bruce being a "louche and gravelly singer-songwriter with a predilection for the grandiose and absurd" and now that 2013 is upon us there is happily no reason to change the story for, in the very compliant Love In Arms, Bruce has landed one of the year's best debuts and make no mistake.
Far from hiding his influences, Bruce wears them loud and proud, his sleeve duly emblazoned with some of the greats. The opening one-two, for example, undoubtedly owes a huge debt to pomp-era Nick Cave, these dark epics setting Bruce's creepy croon against buzzed-out gospel grooves and overblown riff-rock. And whilst it's "Honey Honey Honey" that introduces the notion via its fist-pumping balladry, it's the literary opener "Dark Lights Shine Loud" that confirms Bruce's ironic reverence for all things Springsteen with its infectious sax-y stomp. Later, and completing this trinity of up-front anthems, "Cars Not Leaving" again appeals to your inner classic-rock fan, peeling out some more iconic E-Street sax as it goes.
Those seeking subtlety need not apply up to this point, but Bruce's solemn baritone is put to more understated use during portions of the LP. Arguably it's all the better for it too as, during the stripped-back surroundings of "All That I Have", Bruce downright basks alongside quivering piano and take-home lyrics, its ghostly backing and deliberate tear-jerking seeming to take a few cues from that melancholy master Jeff Buckley. A blend of all that's come before and will follow, "El Musgo" earlier straddles the middle order, forcing Bruce's now subterranean vocal into bed with ecclesiastical chant and funereal organ.
And so to Love In Arms' last unavoidable touchstone as heard during the stunning "Sleep Paralysis", which takes no other than Leonard Cohen's cabaret disco of the 80s and prescribes unto it a dose of swelling indie bombast borrowed from the likes of The National. Mining a similarly camp seam of melodrama, Love In Arms also conceals the rumbling vocals and soft synths of "Zoe". They're no doubt suave, but you certainly wouldn't sit them too close to the kids' table at weddings all the same.
It's only right really that Bruce closes with a massive, celebratory finale in the form of "Sermon On The Mount". Becoming increasingly unhinged as the party progresses, it's one he deserves in which to revel because Love In Arms is quite an accomplishment. First impressions count, and this "grandiose and absurd" collection could have been just that. In reality, it's turned out to be so much more.
Advised downloads: "Sleep Paralysis" and "All That I Have"