Back in 2003 Guy Sebastian rose to prominence first as a contestant on, and eventually as the winner of, the inaugural season of Australian Idol. Releasing a steady stream of singles, extended-plays, and albums, Sebastian capitalised on this initial success to firmly establish himself as a fixture of the Australian music scene, so much so he that was chosen to represent Australia at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest (don’t get too caught up on the geographic incongruity there). Now the thirty-six-year-old singer has released his eighth album, Conscious.
Upon hitting play the listener is immediately met with the funky guitars and R&B beats of lead single, High on Me. It is a song with an infectious sound which promises that the Conscious will offer something notably different to the usual pop fare. Bloodstone follows with darkened tones and a heavier mood, but the bassline and piano maintains some of the preceding track’s vibe, and Sebastian’s use of the lower end of his natural range works well, but by track three, Set in Stone, it is clear that Conscious is a continuation of last year’s Part 1 EP – on which Set in Stone first appeared.
While Part 1’s electronica-infused pop was finely crafted and executed, it wasn’t groundbreaking and certainly not as interesting as High on Me and Bloodstone prove to be. Rooted in synths, and burdened by a trite chorus and lyrics, Vesuvius is a leaden weight on the record. With Conscious, Sebastian has sought to move away from his tendency to do take after take in search of the perfect vocal delivery, instead seeking to make it feel “a bit more real”. A fine sentiment to be sure, and a challenge worthy of a vocalist of Sebastian’s calibre, yet on song’s like Sober and Drink Driving his singing has a displeasing mumbled quality.
For an artist who has grown so steadily through his career, Conscious neither represents stagnation or a backward step for Sebastian, but nor does it represent progress.