Passenger is one of those artists blessed with the curse of being overshadowed by their most famous song; in his case, the mega hit Let Her Go. Although most of us will only be familiar with this one song, Passenger has consistently been churning out albums since his 2009 debut. The latest of these is his twelfth studio album Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted.
Due to the personable title, I listened to the title track with the idea that it would provide a tonic to the anguished and disenfranchised youth, who identify with the jester that’s lost its laugh depicted on the cover. Although it doesn’t offer hope directly to such listeners, a faint, knowing smile will flicker upon their face as they hear themselves and their feelings being described in lyrics ranging from the simple ‘summer always fades too soon’, to the amusing ‘old familiar tune but you’ve forgotten half the words’, to the darker ‘where souls come to drown’ and ‘as you sink another one down…there’s no love left you can steal’.
But after listening to the whole album, it began to dawn on me that Songs for The Drunk and Broken Hearted is really a concept album that deals with the inevitably devastating idea of ‘dreaming your life away,’ where a lifestyle forged in chasing an insatiable desire for something unknown and unreachable eventually gives way to dreams being replaced by alcohol and cigarettes.
In the brilliantly titled Remember to Forget, Passenger himself embodies a character struggling with these issues, accurately describing the negative aspects of one’s drunk persona, while still managing to elicit melancholia with the achingly sad lines ‘I don’t want to wake up yet; stay with me through the night’ and ‘I’ve always been a storyteller but no one’s listening anymore’. Even in What You’re Waiting For, where the character has achieved their dreams, they remain unfulfilled and restless: ‘don’t know what you’re waiting for…is it something but you’re just not sure?’ These ideas culminate in Suzanne, in which Passenger casts an image of these characters decades on from their youth, asking them ‘where did you land when the spinning stops?’ It’s lugubrious to hear that for Suzanne, ‘when the mask comes off,’ she’s left with ‘red wine teeth and a smoker’s cough,’ but this shows Passenger wishes to remain in the often-sad reality rather than an unrealistic, overly optimistic storyland, although he does dangle a morsel of hope with the lyric ‘you still shine bright to me.’
Musically, this album is very ordinary, with a catchy vocal style, relatable lyrics, smooth backing vocals, simple melodic lines protruding in the right places, and gentle, reassuring drumbeats. Sandstorm is a musical oasis amongst these otherwise compositionally obvious songs. A soft, bewitching intro features gut-wrenching melodies and there’s a rare heaviness and sombreness to Passenger’s voice, while strings and horns draw you even deeper into the song and the image it conjures up.
In one sense, Songs for The Drunk and Broken Hearted is just like any other good pop album that is great to listen to, but those art lovers who are drawn to more wistful concepts will find themselves investing in the dark cloud that hovers over this album more than perhaps they foresaw.