Rag ’n’ Bone Man’s debut album is a bluesy collection of soul songs, all of them ideal for highlighting his earthy vocals. Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of this record’s ambition.
It’s not that the album itself is particularly unpleasant to listen to. The competency of the writing on songs like ‘Human’ and ‘Bitter End’ is plain to be seen, the former being perfect single bait for showcasing Graham’s full vocal range, the latter a familiar yet oddly endearing exercise in melancholy. Yet ‘Skin’, possibly the least impressive song on the album, basks in pop clichés, the over-tested chord progressions leaving me feeling somewhat manipulated, as though I’m hearing the same sales pitch for the fiftieth time.
“a tired exercise in the bare minimum a 2010s singer-songwriter is expected to do”
Minimal strings and piano backs a good portion of the album, offering plenty of opportunities for the vocals to take centre stage, yet only so much can be done when the harmonic content itself is so overdone. Though the chords are nothing new, the electronic polish of ‘Ego’ holds the listener’s interest for far longer, the jazzy arrangement and delightful melody almost echoing John Legend — though your mileage may vary with regards to Graham’s rapping. Likewise, ‘Arrow’s Motown-inspired percussion and brass delivers some much-needed energy.
If only that energy could be sustained across the whole album. There’s a lot that’s satisfying for the listener, but most of Human is a tired exercise in the bare minimum a 2010s singer-songwriter is expected to do. This album is little more than skin and bone, spared only by Graham’s raw vocals, and the a cappella closing track, ‘Die Easy’, serves as a reminder of what we’ve stuck around for.