Review: John Newman, ‘Tribute’


John Newman, Tribute © Universal Republic

 Newman Proves Soul Music Is Alive and Well on Tribute 

John Newman • Tribute • Island • US Release Date: January 7, 2014

John Newman just might be the male version of Adele – like seriously.  Newman, another British import to the U.S., definitely possesses one of the most distinct and soulful voices I’ve heard in some time.  Britain has definitely delivered some exceptional, soulful talent to America over recent times.  The names on the list seem endless:  Joss Stone, James Morrison, Duffy, and Leona Lewis just to list a few.  23-year old John Newman certainly proves his stock can only rise on his exceptional debut, Tribute.  From start to finish, Tribute is remarkably consistent.

Title-track “Tribute” literally opens up as a ‘tribute’, with the names of numerous soul artists being drum against a lovely string backdrop during the intro.  After setting the tone of the retro-soul effort, John Newman gets to work, captivating from his first note until his last. The theme of ‘tribute’ initially seems to be in regards to artists who paved the way for Newman’s musical career, however, it also seems to serve a dual meaning as well, depending how one reads into the lyrics.  Lyrics like “My passion was abused, my words were never used / but now I hope that you see…” seem to have more ‘passion’ behind them than solely musical influences.  Regardless of interpretation, “Tribute” is a fantastic way to begin the album.

Love Me Again” is the crowning achievement of Tribute, no questions asked.  A number one hit in Britain, it’s easy to see why this pop soul cut was incredibly popular.  From the American music listener’s perspective, “Love Me Again” sort of parallels the work of Bruno Mars, an artist who straddles both pop and soul, hence pleasing a wide fan base. “Love Me Again”, hence, represents both retro-soul and also eclectic, modern-soul at its best.  Vocally, Newman sings like nothing short of a champ.  The vintage horns and soaring strings certainly serve as inspiration for Newman’s gritty, emotional pipes.

Losing Sleep” gives Tribute it’s third straight ‘three-point jumper’ in a row – now that’s some offense! Sporting some intense pummeling drums and retaining piano and strings, once more the soundscape itself is enough to make “Losing Sleep” a hit.  Still, where would the cut be without its highly invested vocalist? Newman grit and distinctive nuances set him apart from the competition – this dude can sing his butt off.   He’s at his best on the memorable chorus: “Please don’t stop loving me, loving me / ooh, ooh… / wanting me, wanting me like you do / please don’t stop caring now, caring now…” As much as one sympathizes that Newman is losing sleep, us the audience reaps the benefits big time.

On “Easy”, Newman definitely doesn’t sing easy, once more infusing his ‘all’ and slaughtering vocally.  That said Newman had to sing – he’s conquering the arduous nature of a four-letter word named ‘love’.  “Just another song, just another tale / of a broken heart,” Newman sings on the first verse, “Don’t wanna see you hurt / there’s something you should learn from the star.”  Despite the misconceptions, Newman educates with supreme command.

He follows up capably with “Try”, a minor key centered cut with one sick, driving groove.  Remaining soulful and impassioned, Newman proclaims “I’ll make you stronger, stronger / cause now I can see those fakes that use me / I’ll make you stronger / cause I know it’s saving me…” He goes on to state chivalrously “I will fight, fight, fight / for what we had before.”  Five tracks in, Newman continues to impress.

As sound as “Easy” and “Try” were, “Out of My Head” and “Cheating” are a formidable one-two punch.  On the refrain of “Out of My Head”, Newman sings emotionally “To shut out feeling lonely, I get out of my head / lost everything around me / not dealing with it well…why would you want to love somebody when love hurts in the end?”  “Out of My Head” comes from a dark place, but its intensity and vulnerability feels authentic.

“Cheating” isn’t as deep emotionally as “Out of My Head”, but the up-tempo joint is incredibly infectious.  Sure, encouraging his female love interest to cheat on her man is immoral, but you’ve got to admire the fact that Newman says he’d never cheat on her.  He’s into her – that’s an understatement.  Besides another incredible vocal, the production work here is bold and in your face – quite a sight to behold.

The energy definitely doesn’t fade on “Running”, where Newman’s vocals sound as robust and hefty as they have the entire effort.  Add those soaring strings, a busy pop soul groove, and a thoughtful harmonic scheme, and “Running,” contends with the top echelon of songs.

Gold Dust” continues to find Newman flexing his muscles – vocal muscles of course, as does the touching “Goodnight Goodbye” (“Don’t say goodnight / know your love didn’t mean goodbye / we just watched it burn / know we could’ve kept going by / I should be loving you”).  Newman said it best earlier – love isn’t “Easy”.

On the funky “All I Need Is You”, Newman sounds like he’s channeling his inner-Elton John (where the sound of the song is concerned).  Thematically, Newman suggests that “she” is atonement for everything: “Cause all I need is you… I go to war with these troubles / and really all I need is you.” “All I Need Is You” does a nice job of separation the songwriting structure distinctively (verse, refrain, and bridge, etc.).

Bonus closing cut “Down the Line” puts an exceptional cap on an equally exceptional album.  The piano-driven cut reminds one of Adele’s “Someone Like You” or “Turning Tables”, which is always a good thing.  Gorgeously done, the songwriting hits home while Newman’s vocal performance is spot-on with its power, passion, and genuineness.

Ultimately, Tribute epitomizes musical excellence through and through.  In an age where many question ‘where the soul has gone,’ Newman shows that soul music is still very much alive.  For any further questioning if the British soul movement was a thing of the past in it self, well, question no more.  John Newman is legit as they come and he has top-notch material working in his favor on this affair.  For pop and R&B fans alike, Tribute should easily tickle your fancy.

Favorites: “Tribute,” “Love Me Again,” “Losing Sleep,” “Out Of My Head,” “Cheating,” “Down The Line”

★★★★½  ★★★★

Photo Credits: © Universal Republic
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