Nine Track Mind- Charlie Puth (Atlantic 2016)
Current UK Chart Position – 6
Current US Chart Position – 6
In a return to my occasional series for those concerned modern music might be passing them by, I would like to celebrate someone at the start of their career. The music business is tough nowadays – you have to be instantly all things to all people. Very few artists are given the chance to develop from album to album as they might have been in the past. Perform or be dropped is the current mantra. We’ve seen artists who’ve appeared from vast amounts of publicity (I’m thinking of those spawned by shows such as “X Factor” who have initial huge public support but are dropped after one album). Building up a fan base means different things these days. In the 70’s you could have a two or three albums released before anyone questioned whether you were offering value for money. In the 80’s wannabe popstars began trawling shopping malls and schools to pick up the fans. Nowadays, a number of artists have begun their career through careful use of “YouTube”. Justin Bieber, now on a career revival which is seeing him bigger than ever is the best example of this but add to this list Charlie Puth.
Charlie Puth (I think he might have had a tough time in UK schools with that name) is a twenty four year old from New Jersey. Originally championed by Ellen De Generes he was signed to Atlantic in 2015. His first two singles were collaborations – the first “See You Again” with rap star Wiz Khalifa topped charts all over the world. His second, a pairing with chart-topping “All About The Bass” star Meghan Trainor gave him a second UK number 1. He has gone it alone for his current single which this week has entered the UK charts at number 29 and has climbed to 17 in the US. This debut album released on the 29th Jan has entered both the UK and US charts at number 6.
On listening to this album you can tell Charlie is a crowd-pleaser. He has a good grounding in music and has written a good set of songs. He is an accomplished pianist and his looks have the wholesomeness of a young Rick Astley. He has also been prepared to share his talent having written and produced songs for Jason DeRulo and Cee Lo Green amongst others. There’s something about him and his voice and this collection of thirteen songs which will appeal to a lot of people – from the young, charmed by his puppy dog looks and eyebrow scar (not a fashion statement but a dog bite injury from when he was a toddler), to those who appreciate a good song well sung, to cooler pop/r&b fans won over by his collaboration with Wiz Khalifa to the older fan who might just see him as the Michael Buble of the next generation. With so many markets available to tap into it is no wonder that Atlantic signed him.
The CD opens with “One Call Away” his current chart single. This for me is a little below par, although it is growing on me, and has wormed its way into my subconscious. It’s a slow-paced unashamedly romantic ballad, which is probably a sensible single choice with Valentine’s Day approaching. Compared to some of the other tracks it feels a bit like ballad-by-numbers, it’s all a bit on one level and there’s that odd phrasing of the word “me” which has it almost rhyming with “day” which I always find a little off-putting. This does seem to have been a regular feature in American pop since Britney Spears. Still, even Rodgers & Hart wasn’t against the odd dodgy rhyme – think the song “Manhattan” where “spoil” is used to rhyme with “girl” – if it’s good enough for Ella, then it’s good enough for Charlie Puth.
“Dangerously” has a bit more urgency about it. It’s a tale of obsessive love which works very nicely. I have to salute Charlie for bringing the name of one of the all time greats to a new generation of listeners and see that musical legend’s name at the top of the UK charts in 2015 was a real treat. Even if the name is being used as a verb – “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on”, I think we all know what he means . It’s a mid—paced 60’s doo-wop tinged song with admittedly little of the actual Marvin Gayes about it. Charlie is ably assisted by Meghan Trainor. It benefited from a very good video of a High school dance where everyone gets infused with the spirit of Marvin Gaye and start to “get it on.” This is one of the highlights of the album and it is particularly on this track where I get more than a hint of the Buble in Puth’s vocal.
Charlie Puth with Meghan Trainor
It is another collaboration which is up there with the best new tracks on the album and which will probably give him another big hit if released as a single. I can see why it wasn’t chosen as the third single as I am sure Atlantic are keen to establish Puth as a an artist who can go it alone. Joining him on “We Don’t Talk Anymore” is Selena Gomez, who, like Trainor, is a shrewd choice for a singing partner, but it’s certainly another track which gets under the skin and will do much to enhance both artist’s profile. There’s a very commercial eastern influence to the track. Puth told MTV that Gomez was attracted to the track because of a break-down of a highly public relationship (no prizes for working that one out), which led to a track intended as a solo outing being transformed by her presence. It does have the slight feel of Gotye’s huge-selling “Someone I Used To Know” but that’s no bad thing.
“My Gospel” has a touch of the “Happy” about it and is also brimming with hooks yet still remains quite a cool song. Puth says he’s even prepared to “I’ll acappella karaoke “Sexy Thing”, ’cause baby I feel no shame” – Errol Brown would be proud! “Up All Night” is another Buble-ish track with an anthemic, arms above the air. This is also something of an ear-worm and was turning around in my head all night last night- so thanks Charlie for keeping me “Up All Night” with the hooks from that song. “Left Right Left” reminds me very much of Cee-Lo Green (who Puth has written for) I can very much hear Green singing this- there’s more than a touch of the “Forget You” about it, but it does have its own hooks of its own which should ensure success as a single. “Then There’s You” sees Puth really laying on the charm on another mid-tempo ballad – “There’s no words to describe/Let me look in your eyes and say/ There’s beautiful and then there’s you” – This man can give Bruno Mars a run for his money in the flattery stakes. It has a good build to this track- throughout you can hear the sound of a million teenage hearts melting. Things get a little more serious in “Suffer” a nice R&B influenced track with good use of the top of his vocal range. It has a Timberlake coolness about it but is accessible and commercial thoroughout. “As You Are” features Shy Carter who I do not know but who is involved with a fair amount of the songwriting on this album. He contributes a rap which gives the song a slighter amount of edge from what we have heard so far.
Charlie Puth with Wiz Khalifa
“See You Again” is, of course, the track which introduced most to us to Puth. It topped the charts around the world for most of the late spring/early summer and was one of 2015’s biggest songs. From the film “Furious 7” this was a musical tribute to the death of the films’ star Paul Walker in a way which echoed the Puff Daddy/Faith Evans tribute of yesteryear “I’ll Be Missing You”. It is Puth’s contribution which adds the haunting element to a fairly standard R&B rap song. This track has been nominated for three Grammys- “Song Of The Year”, “Best Duo Performance” and “Best Song Written For Visual Media”. I don’t love this song myself –I can’t help feeling that it’s one that’s going to be played at a lot of young people’s funerals and gives me that slightly shivery response I also get with Robbie William’s “Angels” and Celine Dions “My Heart Will Go On” which are now unable to shake their association with death. Still, it was a huge hit and a fitting album closer, if not for me, one of the stand-out tracks.
This is both a good, solid debut and a piece of canny marketing. Atlantic have been keen not to fit Puth into too tight a pigeon hole, have had him working with a team of writers and produced songs which although different in feel have a strong commercial vein and any number of tracks could be big hit singles. I do feel that Puth has a big career ahead of him and that we will be hearing his music for many years to come. Congratulations to Atlantic for recognising this young artist’s potential.
Nine Track Mind was released on Atlantic in January 2016. It is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £8.00 and used from £6.74 and as a download for £7.99. In the US expect to pay around $9.79 and used for $7.00 and as a download for $9.49. It is available for streaming in the UK on Spotify.