It’s remarkable, really, that when you think of Lewis Capaldi, it’s not as a record-breaking hitmaker but as a very funny Scottish lad who just so happens to have the voice of an angel. The singer arrived from nowhere, Buckfast in hand, with his 2017 piano ballad “Bruises”. His astonishing commercial success as a musician (heartbreak anthem “Someone You Loved” remains the fourth most streamed song ever on Spotify) has been eclipsed only by his genuine charisma as a person.
Were you to ask Capaldi, for instance, what he thinks of his second album, Broken By Desire to Be Heavenly Sent, the Grammy-nominated artist is wont to say something along the lines of “It’s s***.” Or, more specifically, “It’s a total piece of flaming s***e” – which is, in fact, what he did say about the record earlier this year. His is the sort of personable charm that even the slickest PR machine can’t drum up. It is also, unfortunately, something that’s too often missing from this album. That and variety.
Broken By Desire kicks off on an uncharacteristically perky note. Lyrically, “Forget Me” is a by-numbers Capaldi album opener – the days “ache” and the nights are “long” – but the production is pop-py and the mood is upbeat. Later, Ed Sheeran joins for “Pointless”, an ultra-saccharine schmaltzfest that wears its co-writer’s influence on its tuxedo sleeve. (The future wedding-DJ favourite begins: “I bring her coffee in the morning/ She brings me inner peace.”) Beyond these digressions, it’s business as usual.
“Wish You the Best”, “Haven’t You Ever Been in Love Before?”, “Burning” et al make for a ballad soup of sorts. Wistful piano; stadium-reading choruses; slowly ascending vocals; lightly schlocky subject matter – it all goes down very easy. But ballads become tiresome (all that crooning!) and Capaldi’s sombre catalogue can make a very reasonable runtime of 25 minutes stretch much longer. It’s tough to ignore the feeling that each and every track is seeking to replicate the success of “Someone You Loved”, reaching for the exact same heights in the exact same way.
And yet, still Capaldi is able to buoy us along with those gale-force vocals. His voice, like Adele’s, works hard. It climbs in pitch and lurches through timbre as it wrangles with his favourite subject: pain. Something that is, of course, all over Broken By Desire. But more urgent and tender than any romantic ruminations is the torment of “How I’m Feeling Now”, an album highlight tucked away at its very end. The track is an acoustic confession of Capaldi’s mental health struggles, recently chronicled in the Netflix documentary of the same name. “So here’s to my beautiful life/ That seems to leave me so unsatisfied,” he sings, deploying a lower vocal register than usual. “No sense of self but self-obsessed/ I’m always trapped inside my f***ing head.” It’s here that Capaldi sounds most like himself, instead of a singer striving for something. It’s no coincidence that it’s also the best moment of the record.