She's never been a Paolo Nutini fan but his latest album Sunny Side Up has persuaded Jane Graham to change her tune
Most of us for whom music is more than an accompaniment to coffee and mints wear our allegiances like a badge, with our well-worn list of favourites brandished like a statement of both intent and character.
We cherry pick from our i-pods to present a version of ourselves that covers all the qualities we value most — Dylan suggests intelligence, Leonard Cohen wit and depth, The White Stripes eccentricity, Funkadelic sexual prowess and Glasvegas an edge. That’s me summed up then (in my dreamiest delusion).
Yes it’s pretentious, but few of us get by without the odd pretention. It’s how we communicate. Which is why Facebook is filled with photos of people laughing, dancing and drinking with other people, rather than photos of solitary figures gazing at computer screens.
With this in mind, I have never, ever been a Paolo Nutini fan. A ridiculously pretty purveyer of soul-lite blah, with Timotei hair and rom-com friendly choruses, he has never fitted my bill. I wasn’t cruel enough to lump him in with James Blunt as some critics did, but there was nothing about his Puma ad jingle ‘New Shoes’ or Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack ‘Million Faces’ to divert me for more than a fleeting moment.
The most interesting thing about Nutini was that he signed to Atlantic Records when he was just 18, and was thus lifted dramatically out of the future his family had assumed he would have as the fourth generation owner of the family fish and chip shop in Glasgow fringe town Paisley.
It was a great story, but the music was disappointingly humdrum in comparison. So it has come as something of a surprise — make that a seismic shock — to find myself more moved and excited by Nutini’s new album Sunny Side Up than anything else this year. How the hell has that happened?
Well, let me say first, Sunny Side Up is not a logical follow up to These Streets, the multi-million selling, Grammy Award winning debut that made an international star of Nutini when he was just 19.
The album isn't just remarkable because of the magnificent songwriting and breathtaking vocals it delivers, but because it’s genuinely odd and wilfully unfashionable.
It's not the sort of album million-selling babyfaced boys are usually given the freedom to make. It is said that Atlantic’s legendary founder Ahmet Ertugun – the man responsible for the careers of Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett — took the teenage Nutini under his wing, regarding him to be a rare talent.
Sunny Side Up explains his hitherto perplexing enthusiasm.
Generically, the album is as eclectic as the White Album, but unlike that schizo classic, it’s entirely the work of one man, a mere boy in fact, who's just turned 22.
It moves from Jamaican ska through deep Staxy soul to Arran jumper-esque Scottish folk withmoments of honky tonk and pure pop in between. The mood is equally erratic — there is thoughtful melancholia (‘Tricks of the Trade’, ‘Worried Man’ and there are yelps of youthful free joy with great lines like “I've got food in my belly and a licence for my telly and nothing's gonna bring me down” (‘Pencil Full of Lead’) and the ‘Coming Up Easy’ refrain, which Nutini hollers with forceful purpose, like it’s the principle he lives by; “It was in love I was created and in love is how I hope I die”.
Then there's Nutini's utterly unique voice — he has the power of Animals’ frontman Eric Burdon and the light and shade of Otis Redding — but he also has a strong Scottish accent.
Sometimes it’s like hearing Ivor Cutler singing In the Midnight Hour, full of chutzpah after a few cans of Tennants (if you can imagine such a thing being disarmingly charming). It’s nothing like the voice Nutini used to sing with — a pretty standard American-accented affair.
All in all, Paolo Nutini’s second album sounds like a divorce from his first one.
While recent shows have provoked a few scratched heads (“Why’s he singing like an old man?” I heard a young woman who had screamed him onstage like he was Robbie Williams mutter to her friend at the Glasgow show), there’s an integrity and depth to the new Paolo Nutini that suggests he might be around for a few decades, long after his looks have gone.
It’s likely to have been this quality which attracted Kings of Leon producer Ethan Johns to Sunny Side Up, and which has so impressed fans like Mick Jagger, Solomon Burke and Rod Stewart.
I’m not the only one who had never noticed it before.
So, time to update my list then. Paolo Nutini – single-minded, honest, funny, gutsy. Yup, that sounds like me.
Paolo Nutini is appearing at Oxegen 2009. His latest album, Sunny Side Up, is in the shops now