Monday, May 31, 2021

Quinn Sullivan - Wide Awake

On his previous album, Midnight Highway, Quinn Sullivan was happy to sow his oats across a variety of musical influences and styles.  Four years down the line, having reached the ripe old age of 21, his new outing Wide Awake finds him apparently ready to settle down, and hone a sleek and soulful pop rock sound.
To begin with it feels like a sound that suits him, as he delivers the opening trio of tracks with commendable élan, under the guidance of producer and collaborator Oliver Leiber.  ‘All Around The World’ puts me in mind of Hall & Oates, with its bright, relaxed and sun-drenched vibe, and a
Quinn Sullivan - not too many years on the clock
Pic by Justin Borucki
Summer of Love lyric about peace and harmony, man.  And crucially, it’s long enough to have room to breathe, and give Sullivan the room for some neat, tasteful guitar filigrees.  ‘She’s So Irresistible’ bumps along in a lightly funky fashion, with a hazy pre-chorus and some spiralling organ fills lending a trippy feel, offset by some Morse Code bleeping guitar licks.  And ‘How Many Tears’ descends from Sixties soul via the Commodores, right down to Sullivan’s impressively executed falsetto vocal moments – a club he pulls out of the bag several times across the album.  It’s a good tune, with a pinpoint guitar solo, and at this point it feels like Sullivan is on a roll.
‘In A World Without You’ kicks off with a funky strut underscored by some rubbery bass playing, and if the chorus feels a bit lightweight then Sullivan makes up for it with some synthy-sounding injections of guitar.  It’s all very nicely done, but the shiny pop sensibility coming to the fore is now edging towards Maroon 5 territory.  Nothing wrong with that in principle, even if it’s not really my choice of hooch, but to these ears both the melody and lyrics begin to sound antiseptic.
Songs like the pop ballad ‘She’s Gone (And She Ain’t Coming Back)’, with lyrics about “my blue eyes crying the moonlight”, are just too sweet to be wholesome.  And that’s the way that it is for several songs to follow.
‘Real Thing’ may get some energy from its propulsive drum rhythm, and the return of that busy, elastic band bass may add some oomph to the summery, love-you-loads poptastic fare of ‘You’re The One’, but it’s all a bit formulaic.
There’s some grittier guitar on the intro to ‘Wide Awake’ itself, and some bigger chords get ripped out – well, carefully torn perhaps – to underpin the Beatle-ish melody, with some squealing guitar licks for added spice.  Crunching guitar chords give some thrust to ‘Strawberry Rain’, but it’s only the guts of his guitar solo that can redeem the insipid lyric – eg “I just can’t explain, she’s strawberry rain”.
The remaining two tracks do little to stir the soul, although the mini-epic guitar solo on the closing ‘Keep Up’ at least catches the ear for a spell.  But overall, with 12 songs running to 50 minutes, there’s just too much middle of the road stuff to maintain interest across the whole of Wide Awake.
And that’s a shame, because I’ve no doubt that Quinn Sullivan is a talented guy.  The kid can still play the guitar, that’s clear, and his polished singing is well-suited to the double-tracking Leiber deploys here and there, though I’d prefer his voice to have a few more miles on the clock.  But then again, when you get down to it, maybe I’m not the kind of audience Quinn Sullivan is trying to attract.

Wide Awake is released by Provogue Records on Friday 4 June.

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