Brendan James: Brendan James

New York-based piano tinkler returns piles on the emotion, but forgets to be inspired.

Brendan James

Brendan James

Label: Decca
US Release Date: 2010-09-07
UK Release Date: Import
Label website
Artist website

The piano seems to have taken on a new lease of life in the last decade. Blame Coldplay's merciless ivory-thumping across four albums, blame Daniel Powter's ubiquitous, sulky-faced hit about defacing subway posters. But like it or lump it, there really has never been a better time for Elton John to dust off his organ. And for those former prep school kids, privileged enough to enjoy a childhood of evening piano lessons -- while their peers were out making friends and living life, no doubt -- there's no better time to bring out an album and become a 'popstar.'

This is not to say piano-balladeer Brendan James is any way posh, or indeed a popstar – as such. What Brendan James, the album, is, for all intents and purposes, is a vehicle for allowing us to get to know Brendan James, the man. Indeed, James is no popstar in the singing gameshow sense. What Brendan James is is a musician in the classic sense. Like Billy Joel, like the aforementioned Elton John -- even like a less-knowing Michael Buble, minus the ego and the smug grin, of course. Throughout Brendan James, there are plenty of faultless, glistening piano riffs and shimmering melodies. Yet it’s clearly no mistake that James's second album is self-titled. Just look at the lyrics: his heart is worn on his sleeve throughout, leaving none of his thoughts or words to question. It's clear, on every song here, what he's singing about.

Sadly though, there's a genuine lack of originality in the lyrics, detracting what this album is really about: Brendan James, the accomplished musician.

So when, at times, the music also seems so-so (take "Stupid for Your Love"'s slushy, tepid motif, or "Emerald Heart"'s sub-Ben Folds jauntiness, for example), it all becomes serviceable but forgettable. And then, after a while, it all becomes a little samey too, both in terms of melodies and subject matter. Indeed, you could even imagine some of Brendan James soundtracking the more melancholic moments of '90s sitcom Friends. James probably even finished off most of the lyrics in a New York coffee shop over a latte -- for a large chunk of the album it certainly sounds like it. On "The Fall", which starts out sounding like a sure-fire hit but eventually becomes lackluster, he even sings, "I am sitting in the next room, staring in my coffee cup".

The overdoing of 'earnest' and the lack of enthusiasm for originality undoes James's attempt at writing an honest album, and eventually it all feels a little false and faceless. Even the album cover, tellingly, seems a little half-arsed: revealing no more of the man behind these songs than it does airbrush him into a flawless sex god, intent on melting dampening hearts and the knickers of, respectively, 45-year-old mums and barely-pubescent schoolgirls. It's a photograph just out-of-focus, taken, judging by the look on his face, shortly after stealing sweets off a baby, and with James subsequently regretting it.

And that could be a metaphor for the whole album, really: Seemed like a good idea at the time, but now all that's left is empty emotion, for all of us to see.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.