A lonely night, a head full of thoughts, a solitary candle. From the atmospheric, black-and-white intro to the first track on What The Night Delivers ..., “Myself Again,” it’s immediately apparent there’s only one way to fully appreciate this album: in the dark, in solitude.
Scott Matthews, you may recall, was the Wolverhampton-born, Ivor Novello-award-winning singer songwriter who had a minor radio hit with the understated, elegiac single “Elusive” way back in 2007. Of course, such high-profile beginnings (who can say they won a prize as coveted as the Ivor Novello for songwriting after one single?!) mean high-profile expectations – and, predictably, his debut album Passing Stranger, reissued by Island Records following his win, didn’t gratify most critics’ expectations.
So, three albums in now and What The Night Delivers ... exemplifies – possibly – is Matthews’ career standing. Far from the days of lauding from the press, this album is reflective, introspective – and at times, played from end to end, a difficult listen. Interestingly, while aforementioned opener “Myself Again” (one of his earliest songs, apparently, dating back to 2002), and particularly the track that follows, “Obsession Never Sleeps”, are atmospheric, violin-infused beauties, it’s on the jauntier (by comparison, obviously), less-heavy moments that Matthews comes unstuck. “The Man Who Had Everything” spends two minutes as a haunted, foreboding dream, before morphing into an upbeat, almost Doves-lite jaunt. Ultimately, it feels more like an exercise in melodrama. “Bad Apple” lightens the mood, but just doesn’t seem to suit the vocal as well.
Ah yes – the vocal. It’s so close to Jeff Buckley at times you could be forgiven for thinking the late author of Grace was back with us. And harsher critics would denounce this album for being too close to Buckley’s Grace at times, but not as good. But what is? What The Night Delivers ... isn’t peppered with out-and-out rockers that could be found throughout Jeff Buckley’s career, but it emulates some of the more tender moments and runs with them. Ideally, listeners will come to What The Night Delivers ... without an prior knowledge whatsoever of Buckley’s entire back catalogue.
One thing that does appear to be absent from Matthews’ vocal though – that Buckley did have, in spades – is feeling. At times, as beautiful and as warmly-layered as the songs are, with their grainy, vinyl echoes, the lack of genuine feeling deep within Matthews’ voice is just not there, and there’s a sense of going through the motions, if you like. Sometimes, particularly on “Head First Into Happiness”, he gets away with it. Elsewhere, like on “Echoes of the Lonely”, he’s less convincing.
What The Night Delivers ... won’t have Ivor Novello knocking down Matthews’ door anytime soon – and listening to this album, you get the feeling he already knows that himself. Instead, it’s a chance to catch up with an artist who’s long past his day in the sun – yet realises some of the best songs are better suited to the dark of the night.