Soundchecks Music Reviews

Out Along The Wire by Tristan Mackay

Battered Hat Records

Tristan Mackay

review by Andrew Darlington

On the standout track Don't Let Me In, Tristan Mackay sings that "nothing comes harder to me than change," and you wonder why a young singer-songwriter would say such stuff. Things start falling into place as you listen to the light-touch brush-stroke drums, the smoky interplay of stinging Mark Knopfler-ish guitar and silver-tinsel keyboards, his voice approaching a level of emotionally-charged hoarseness as he fights romantic temptation, a little like Will Young. Tristan busked his guitar around the precincts of Leeds, I may well have paused to listen outside W.H. Smiths and tossed 50p into his battered hat.

But don't be fooled. For a debut indie CD cut at Red Kite, Martin Levan's production-values are big-label immaculate, and check out the credits to find Paul Carrack there, with the lovely Carol Kenyon adding backing vocals. The stately piano-intro to Last Love is classic pop, recalling Elton or Lennon, with string-quartet embroidery around Tristan's breathless voice. He sings of love's declarations, longings, dreams, and the sky falling down. Close your eyes and feel it. Smooth, soothing, and yes, unchallenging.

A generous 14 cuts, including Fire And Flame and Moonlight which glow like brief sparks at under 48-seconds each. Lonely All By Myself is a shot of jumpy blues with girlie backup chorus, a flavour he repeats on Wherever You Lay Your Head. Tristan knows his way around a fret. But Out Along The Wire has all the big power-ballad ingredients that fire up Radio 2 heavy-rotation. You think unfairly of the Blunts and James Morrison. They also write good pop, and this is good pop.

There's the same safeness. So pleasant it hurts, so tasteful it's near-tasteless; as rich as a diabetic's urine. But hey, that's the stuff that sells in shed-loads. And if Little Mix can take Damien Rice into the top 10, they could certainly find coverable hits here too. So if nothing comes harder to him than change, that's because Tristan's song-writing works best re-working known mainstream stadium-potential qualities.

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press