Based in Paris these days, Cornwall-born Charlie Winston has enjoyed enviable success in his adopted country.His 2009 sophomore album Hobo went platinum in France, stayed on the chart there for over 40 weeks, and its flagship single, Like A Hobo, clinched the no.1 spot on the French singles chart. However, both the album and single failed to make an impact on this side of the channel. Winston’s latest effort, Running Still, will be released in the UK on 28 January 2013. Will Winston’s audience here match the continental enthusiasm for his new collection of songs?
The opening track, Hello Alone, is a bluesy pop number with a sing-along chorus that could find its niche on both Radio 1 and 2 and it is easy to see why it will be the first single from the album. After playing an ace to start with you would be forgiven for thinking Winston’s entire hand was strong but the next card is a joker. Track two on the album is Speak To Me: an entirely vocalised effort. That is, Winston beat-boxes the bass-line and percussion and raps the vocals. It is underwhelming to say the least.
“It’s near impossible for me to write in one style only,” says Winston. This is a statement of intent rather than an apology and much of the album follows this criss-crossing of genres with Winston belting out strong pop-songs that showcase his gravelly vocals, only for the next track to jar the listener’s ear. For example, in The Great Conversation Winston imagines himself having a chat with Ludwig van Beethoven. Over samples of the Moonlight Sonata, Winston utters such lyrics as, “Guten Abend, Herr Beethoven.” It’s a peculiar track that smacks of pretentiousness and undermines the good work done elsewhere throughout the album’s pop backbone. Tracks such as Where Can I Buy Happiness and Until You’re Satisfied are solid tunes. It is a shame that Winston peppers Running Still with beat-boxing and choruses that consist of “uh-uh-uh” grunting, as heard on Rockin’ In The Suburbs.
Sometimes the diversity works. The two strongest songs on the album are the ballads. She Went Quietly is a bitter-sweet lament to runaways. With it, Winston shows he has the range to evoke a genuine pathos that is poignantly accentuated by an understated piano accompaniament. Running Still‘s closing track, Lift Me Gently, is equally memorable, inspiring an air of reverence through a simple acoustic approach.
To sum up
Winston has put together a collection of songs that will appeal in part to continental and British listeners alike. Still, with a clutch of tracks where oddity signals pretension, universal popularity is unlikely. Running Still is an album with an overall impact that is less than a sum of its parts.
Running Still will be released on 28 January 2013.