Following on from a critically polarising album that also happened to be a chart topping success can be a huge undertaking. Tom Odell faced somewhat unprecedented criticism for Long Way Down, an album that received many glowing reviews but also some that were lower than one could believe possible. While weaker debuting artists could crumble under such scrutiny, Odell thankfully paid it little mind and continued on with his sophomore release Wrong Crowd; an album that follows its predecessor, bringing its own little issues along with it, but remains a legitimately enjoyable album regardless.
Unsurprisingly, Wrong Crowd sticks to a similar stylistic palette as his debut. Piano is still a recurring, important element of his music—as is to be expected, given his skills as a pianist—and he still aims for a similar mixture of rock and pop across the album. There’s a newfound flare for the orchestral, however, that dominates the album with perhaps a little too much frequency. When it’s used properly, it makes for some of the album’s hardest hitting moments; the thumping pop beat of Silhouette benefits nicely from the subtle string arrangement that flows throughout its chorus, and the stabs that highlight the verses help too. They also work well on ballads like Constellations and the throwback closing track Somehow, but gets a little out of hand on Still Getting Used to Being On My Own.
The album’s stronger tracks, however, tend to be the ones that forego this orchestral discovery. The shuffling beat and centric piano of Sparrow are more than enough to carry the song for a majority of its runtime, using strings much more subtly and sparingly, allowing its squealing solo near the end to take control of this otherwise mellow track. The harder, distorted rock of Daddy makes a much more instant and powerful impression than most of the other tracks as well, taking advantage of its distinctly different attitude to capture your attention; something Concrete does with similar success as it delves into a strange yet pleasant mix of R&B verses and a rock chorus. Wrong Crowd never really hits a completely sour note, but some songs do leave a much better impression than others, especially when Odell isn’t over singing for the pure sake of it or the song isn’t packing extra elements into itself for the sake of sounding grand or expansive.
Wrong Crowd makes a valiant attempt at feeling different and a little less mainstream, and quite often succeeds at this task as well. Compared to Long Way Down, it feels much fuller and has more songs that leave a lasting impression on you, with Silhouette, Concrete and Daddy being the highlights of what the album has to offer. When it comes to convincing doubters or attracting new listeners, Wrong Crowd may not have too much success. Coming in with an open mind, however, may just sell you on what Odell has to offer. It’s not a perfect follow-up, but it does enough right to come out on top anyway.