I had been vaguely aware of Passenger for a little while, but had written “them” (as I didn’t know it was a solo venture) off as just another one of these tedious Ed Sheeran-like acts who dropped expletives and consonants in equal measure without ever saying anything worth hearing. Apparently there was rather a fuss made of the song “Let Her Go” at the time which seems to have brought Passenger all of the current attention, but all of that passed me by as I very rarely listen to the radio. My very benign opinion of Passenger changed recently when two friends who, as far as I’m concerned, have rather good taste in music, raved about him and piqued my interest enough to look Passenger (a.k.a. Brightonian Michael Rosenberg) up. Despite his ties with the aforementioned Sheeran (someone I really cannot stand, musically), I became intrigued by both his longevity in the music industry and also his busking days, intrigued enough to buy his last couple of albums and, boy, am I glad I did. This guy is a truly gifted songwriter. I admit, I had to get past his voice at the beginning, it sounded very much the kind of “trying hard to be ordinary” vocal delivery I’m not overly keen on, but the character and substance of the material, as well as the personality and sheer talent of Rosenberg won me over very quickly indeed.
As a relatively new fan, I’m able to approach “Whispers” with little to no expectations and very little to compare it with in terms of Passenger’s previous albums. The first thing that strikes me is the attention to detail in the beautiful, retro artwork on the CD sleeve and insert (see what you’re missing, digital downloaders?), making the whole package look like a book for children. As for the music itself, it’s an absolute delight to listen to from beginning to end. The picks on the album are plentiful. “27”, a brilliantly verbose, profane summary of Mike’s life so far is inspired, coming across like a cross between Newton Faulkner and David Ford, with a rather lovely violin break in the middle. The tender love song that is “Heart’s On Fire” hits the right balance of romanticism and earnestness without a hint of saccharine. “Golden Leaves” has the feel of a classic seventies singer/songwriter composition, so much so that it almost feels as if I have heard it before; regardless, it’s undeniably gorgeous and the blend of acoustic guitar and string quartet is the perfect touch. The irrepressible “Thunder” is an upbeat beauty, shimmering, catchy and full of positive imagery juxtaposed with fatalistic self-observations; it’s also surely a massive hit in waiting.
I was trying to avoid the comparisons, but on “Start A Fire”, I really can’t help it. There are brief moments where you can hear a slight influence, but on this track it is literally impossible to not hear Mumford & Sons, most pointedly in the brass instrumental breaks between the chorus and verse. It’s a rather good song, though. The excellent title track, with lyrics that sees Rosenberg vulnerable and unsure of himself, gains momentum throughout and results in an edgy, highly emotional conclusion. The wonderfully expansive folk-leanings of “Riding To New York” is a good example of just why I rate Passenger so highly, namely his ability to convey short stories which engage and intrigue the listener, all embellished with graceful, enticing music. There are, again, echoes of one of my favourite artists, David Ford, on the magnificent “Scare Away The Dark”, a discontented, thoroughly rousing rant about modern life (“We wish we weren’t losers and liars and quitters/We want something more not just nasty and bitter/We want something real not just hashtags and Twitter”) and it ends a marvellous, accomplished album on a huge high. Produced by Mike and Chris Vallejo and recorded at Vallejo’s Linear Recording Studios in Sydney, Australia, “Whispers” is difficult to fault, both in terms of sound and content. If, like me, you have dismissed Passenger as just another one of those bland singer/songwriter blokes, I would urge you to give both him and this album a chance because I suspect you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised if you do.
“Whispers” by Passenger was released on 9th June, 2014 on Black Crow Records and is available widely from both traditional and online retailers.
Andy Sweeney, 27th June, 2014.