Oceanography by Charlie Barnes

Release date: March 9, 2018
Label: Superball Music

Charlie Barnes is a most unlikely popstar. A geeky young student from Derbyshire, he started his career playing oddball electronic music and layered compositions of twisting complexity. Now, as a touring member of indie rock superstars Bastille, he has played arena shows throughout the world. If there was ever a time to pounce onto stardom, it’s now and with such a massive potential audience there can be no better time for Barnes to release his third solo album.

Barnes has always had an ear for a good tune but on Oceanography that talent is taken up a notch. The album is chock full of earworms, catchy hooks and massive choruses. ‘One Word Answers’ and lead single ‘All I Have’ in particular showcase his ability to write good straight up pop rock songs, while ‘The Departure’s use of peppy synths showcases a finely tuned pop sensibility no doubt learnt from all those year playing it.

That’s not to say the album is all catchy melody and no substance  – ‘Will and Testament’ evolves another poppy, catchy verse filled with singalong “woah – oh’s” into a slower, more grandiose chorus. At times like this Barnes prog influences are firmly felt and the sweeping, epic feel of the title track; the slow build-up of ‘Legacy’ showcase this even more. Yet this melding seems a little uneven and forced – at times the song is crying out for a lick of weirdness, an evolution that is often threatened but usually fails to emerge. If Barnes wanted to write a full on pop album then maybe he should have, not leave in curios such as ‘Former Glories’ with its discordant sounds and echoing vocals. the album fails to find a consistent tone.

Lyrically the album suffers from the same flaw. Even during the poppy happiness of the majority of the album, Charlie seems a frustrated, weary figure. Maybe unsurprisingly considering the massive weight of his day job, the theme of the album seems to be that of drowning, of struggling against the world. The vocals themselves are largely delivered with a numb sense of detachment. It makes for an odd dichotomy – lyrics such as “I have tried everything but I can’t stop the bruising” are delivered almost as some of the happiest on the record.

Oceanography is by no means a bad album. Perhaps Charlie has taken a bit too much of an influence from his other band, but it’s hard to deny songs like ‘All I Have’. It just feels like an album constantly at war with itself – it straddles the line between pop and prog rock a little too much, never quite experimenting enough and as such feels a little bit too safe.

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