Since becoming one of Britain’s most ubiquitous faces some four years ago, few artists have managed to establish a gulf between their music and their public persona quite like Lewis Capaldi.
On one side of the vast chasm lies the stadium-filling voice that sells records by the shedload, delivering intensely personal and universally relatable tales of heartbreak and pain.
On the other, there is the hilarious and self- deprecating Scot who said earlier this year that his second album would be “fucking shit, honestly, don’t bother with it.”
While that tongue-in-cheek assessment is wide of the mark, Broken by Desire to be Heavenly Sent is an album that largely sticks to the same sonic formula as his first. To put it another way: you sense that Capaldi knows that if the multi-million- selling song formula ain’t broke, there’s little point in fixing it.
This is a strategy of mixed returns. It starts confidently: ‘Forget Me’ is Capaldi at his upbeat best, a radio-friendly comeback track that deservedly went straight in at number one upon release last year. Anchored by a soaring chorus, it’s the kind of track that allows Capaldi’s gravelly soul vocals to truly shine.
But then the second song arrives and so, too, do the sombre piano blasts that mean, yes, we’re in break-up ballad territory once again. “I miss knowing what you’re thinking / And hearing how your day has been,” he croons on ‘Wish You the Best’ — a middle-of-the-road ballad that plays straight into the hands of those who fell in love with his serious side.
Arguably, here lies the problem. In leaning too heavily on the balladeering side of things to deliver a sure-fire hit, Capaldi risks neglecting the subtle moments of experimentation on show that hint at an altogether more exciting future.
An unexpected flavour of heartland rock arrives on the chugging ‘Heavenly Kind of State of Mind’, paired with one of the record’s most effective choruses (When I need someone to save me from original sin / You come in like a chorus so the angels can sing). Elsewhere, ‘Leave Me Slowly’ is his very own answer to Prince’s 80s balladry highs — defined by ambient synths, powerful drum fills and a soaring guitar solo that even the Purple One himself would surely approve of.
And as the record draws to a close, there is admirable honesty on ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, which shares its name with a recent Netflix documentary on Capaldi’s life. The film offered an uncompromising glimpse into his battles with anxiety as his international stardom continued to grow. “So here’s to my beautiful life / That seems to leave me so unsatisfied… I’m always trapped inside my fucking head,” he sings with remarkable and commendable candour over an acoustic guitar line.
All things considered, you’d get very low odds on Capaldi’s second outing not ending up as
one of 2023’s biggest-selling albums, by largely leaning into the sonic recipe that, in fairness, has cemented his reputation as one of Britain’s biggest stars. He remains the unabashed joker who is just as comfortable performing to sold-out arenas as he is in claiming that he looks like a young Liz Truss and sticking the comparison on a billboard (this actually happened). But, as his second album proves, a more varied and interesting musical future could still be his. You just wish he’d dare to try that route.