Having recently become reacquainted with Gomez’s stunning 1998 debut Bring It On, State was hoping for something special from Ben Ottewell, the raw, raucous voice behind the epic ‘Get Miles’. It comes as a disappointment then that his debut solo effort contains none of the ragged beauty or rasping blues we might have expected. Instead, it’s pretty much pastoral, folky and, well, nice – there, we’ve said it.
Shapes & Shadows feels like an album that never really gets out of second gear. It’s hard to hate tracks like the pretty ‘Lightbulbs’ or ‘Chicago’, but it’s impossible to really love them either. The orchestral swells on the coda of ‘All Brand New’, one of the best tracks here, are enticing, and the mid-paced pluckery of ‘Blackbird’ may just have you tapping along, but it’s all just a little too middle-of-the-road to get excited about. By the time you’re two thirds of the way through, you’re hoping for something to quicken the heart, but it never comes, as Ottewell prefers to stick to crooning (‘Chose’) and gentle balladeering (‘No Obstacles’)instead of really letting his emotions loose with that throaty bellow we know he possesses. The pace never gets above a canter: even on ‘Step Right Back’, just when you feel it’s ripe for taking off, it bows out with a whimper. By the time the closing ‘Take This Beach’ rolls gently around, you’re left with a distinct whiff of disappointment.