It does not take much to be easily won over by Lewis Watson. A quick glance over his socials, or seeing his manner in interviews, displays his charm and likeability. For the best part of a decade, Watson has carved his identity with a start in YouTube covers before transitioning into original music. Looking at the titles of EPs like ‘It’s Got Four Sad Songs on It BTW’, and ‘Four More Songs’, you could be mistaken for making him out to be a cheery chappy on record. His first two albums followed in 2014 and 2017 (‘This Morning’ and ‘Midnight’ respectively) to respectful, if unremarkable, fanfare. His brand of tolerable acoustic heartbreak songs has garnered attention; compared to the instantaneous rise of Lewis Capaldi, however, Watson’s third album feels like a slightly limp substitute.
‘the love that you want’ [stylised intentionally], Lewis Watson’s third record, is a fairly lifeless, hollow album full of heard-it-before tales of love, break-ups and… well that just about covers it. It is passable: occasionally good, frequently meh. This album does not want to annoy you, it will not test you, which might in turn be the most frustrating factor about it.
The album opener ‘take what you need’ starts off strong; reminiscent of Ben Howard, it is confrontational and bitter. With prominent drums and bass, it is both cold and vapid. However it is easy to imagine how this could encourage a sing-along. Co-written by prolific songwriter Jimmy Hogarth, it could be a smash in the late 2000s. From the off, you get the sort of lyrics you will become familiar with for the next forty minutes with broad statements like: “I know that you used to feel something, But it’s different, We’re different.” It is only getting started. Nonetheless it is an album highlight.
And there are a couple tracks on this album that deserve your attention. ‘castles of sand’ is an upbeat number, a song that feels like it is building to something. Sure, it is dentist music that belongs firmly in the hands of Heart Radio, but you can hear far worse. A pleasant focused cut, it shows Watson’s strength as a writer and confidence as a performer. Elsewhere ‘loving arms’ has big Mumford energy. With endearing strings and a sincere plea of a chorus (“Don’t waste your loving arms on mine”), it makes the most of its stay.
Unfortunately for most of its forty-minute runtime, ‘the love that you want’ is padded with banality. ‘meant for me’ is simply not. A perfectly fine One Direction-esque cut over-complicated to the point of disinterest (“Your eyes, they are a puzzle, that I try my best to read”), it fails to muster up the uplifting message it conveys. Whereas ‘echoes’ meanders into obscurity with half-hearted lyrics like: “Cause we’re the worst and we’re the best.” As for ‘another song’, well it really does sound like one.
As one might have noticed, one recurring issue across Lewis Watson’s third album is the seemingly empty lyricism. These songs are so evidently personal to him that the listening experience should feel intrusive. However the broad execution results in both Watson and the listener barely connecting with the songs. Take ‘spark’, for example. One of the most appealing songs on the record, the single has more than enough accessibility and charm to place itself on several BBC Radio B-lists. Co-written by guitar-pop superwriter Iain Archer, it is geared for a festival singalong. Yet it is weighed down with innocuous lines like “Oh, please don’t leave me out in the dark, ‘cause we had an incredible spark.” It is undeniably safe, but Lewis Watson has shown in the past his ability to engage better.
It is worth pointing out there are moments of quality. ‘fly when i fall’ is an album highlight, a stand-out in arrangement and performance. A rare strong moment of communicating his tale of love, Watson is on his best form here. The single is rich, layered and surprising – the delicate little piano flutters post-chorus are a blanket to reside in.
As for the album closer, ‘(bring you home)’, Lewis Watson ushers in his next era. Not content with enforcing all-lower case titles, Lewis Watson Presents: Brackets! And in an equally, if not more, exciting move, Watson closes the album with an eye-opening risk. Given the listener will have likely adjusted to his brand of custard acoustic pop, ‘(bring you home)’ is a fairly thrilling adventure. The whole song feels live, with each layer seemingly being recorded in real time. With Watson on the offensive with lines like: “We were perfect, don’t you remember?”, his use of vocoder effectively communicates and amplifies his confrontational lyrics. Here, Lewis Watson is an artist worthy of attention. And it is a delight. Which is such a shame that nothing follows it.
So is ‘the love that you want’ good? No. Is it bad? No. It is far more concerned with how it is perceived that it skips past any tangibility. There are flickers of hope here, of an artist that might rise from the ashes. If Lewis Watson continues to push himself with production and instrumentation, and perhaps considers digging below the surface lyrically, an artist of serious quality will unfold. Unfortunately this album is not that. It is the record that bridges his two sides, a stepping stone. Some strong melodies and modestly catchy tunes are not enough; but with time, we could really do with Lewis Watson.
‘the love that you want’ by Lewis Watson is out now via Cooking Vinyl