It’s been a strange year for TOM ODELL. After topping the Brit Awards one’s to watch poll and landing a place on the revered BBC Sound of 2013 list, he must have gone to sleep quite soundly. Then Mark Beaumont, the polarizing NME journalist penned one of the most contentious album reviews this side of a decade, awarding the young Chichister born songwriter an emphatic zero out of ten for his debut album.
Now honestly, before even listening to the guy I was one of Tom Odell’s biggest detractors, lamenting that kind of beige, nu-boring pop music that had inexplicably captured the public’s interest. It’s not that there isn’t a place for it, it’s just that place is on Radio 2 and Mother’s Day compilations rather than at the forefront of mainstream youth culture. That zero out of ten though, that declaration that this is an artist completely void of any artistic merit, created an underdog out of the guy, slightly skewering his position in the publics consciousness and forcing many, including myself, to reassess what he means to UK Music.
On a performance level, tonight’s show is excellent. The immensely likeable Odell sits confidently beside a piano, muttering small talk with the charm of a New Orleans jazz hall pianist. Opener Grow Old With Me doesn’t offer much when it comes to innovation, but the earnest cries from the remarkable number of besotted young girls singing along is actually very moving. Can’t Pretend, easily his most complete song to date, is a rousing, sinister number, complete with appropriate ooh’s and ahh’s from a tight ensemble beside him. Similarly, current single Another Love just about manages to withstand its own weight in passion to create a stirring display of build and release. This is where Odell excels tonight and indeed on record, with a steady, stomping bass drum and almost euphoric crescendos, capturing that sort of exhilaration that can completely remove you from your surroundings. Where it all falls down of course, is with the slower, more somber numbers, as Odell attempts to convey poignancy that sadly, is far beyond his means. I Know, with its twinkling piano and quivering falsetto appears to drag on for hours, and Supposed To Be is barely audible above the symphony of disinterested chatter near the bar. The trouble is that just alone with a piano; Odell’s songwriting is stripped to its bones. So without the cymbal crashes and without the building textures, you’re left with pieces of music that melodically and lyrically are extremely basic. And even the kind of apathetic idiot who thinks Haim are too ‘hipster’ can see through that.
Before an encore consisting of the Ghostbusters theme tune (I won’t even go into that), Odell returns to that winning formula with a soaring, singalong inducing rendition of Hold Me, displaying a showmanship that makes it easy to see how he has got this far. Ultimately, this is a guy performing a load of very average songs very well. Whether or not it will be enough for him to maintain any sort of longevity as an artist - I’m not so sure. But if the younger generation’s poster boy is a choice between this guy and a whining, ghost-written Jake Bugg and his contrived backstory of scribbling lyrics on the side of a council house; I suppose we could do a lot worse.