James Morrison: Undiscovered

Undiscovered sounds like an authentic soul record after being run through a Xerox machine eight or nine times.

James Morrison


Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2007-03-13
UK Release Date: 2006-07-31

Picture Joss Stone. Now, picture Joss Stone as a dude. Now, you know exactly what James Morrison sounds like.

Of course, I should elaborate. Morrison is the latest entry in what’s being touted as a 21st century British Invasion. Along with previously successful acts ranging from Stone to Coldplay, this year has seen several Brit acts make some noise across the shores. Lily Allen’s album is already a modest hit, and Amy Winehouse is about to crash to American shores with a bang. Unfortunately, Morrison (quite obviously no relation to The Doors’ long-depared lead singer or any of his kin) has less in common with any of these acts and much more in common with a fairly recent Brit export who went as quickly as he came -- the dead boring Craig David.

Well, let me take that statement back a little. Morrison definitely has a much better instrument than the thin-voiced David. His thick rasp suggests a lifetime of listening to everyone from Stevie Wonder to Van Morrison. It’s a pretty instrument, and with five or ten years of life experience, it could grow into something truly wondrous.

With that said, the material on Undiscovered, his debut album, is below standard. The songs are typical boy/girl love tripe, and Morrison still has to figure out that there’s more to being soulful than just having a pretty voice. There’s something about this album’s awkward lyrics and the “organic” arrangements that seems to be put-on. Technically speaking, the album is spot on. You will hear this in a record store (well, if there are any left in America by the time this album is released) and say to yourself “wow, this is pretty good”. You will then buy the album, take it home, and be profoundly disappointed.

Listening to this album, I found myself playing a lengthy game of “This Song Sounds Like”. The dusky “One Last Chance” (easily the album’s best track) is a bluesy guitar solo away from being a modern-day Jonny Lang track, while the ballad “The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore” sounds like it came from the reject pile of the boring-but-not-THAT-boring Gavin DeGraw. “Call the Police”, actually, has a very strong resemblance to DeGraw’s breakout hit “I Don’t Want to Be” -- even down to the words “I don’t want to be” being repeated several times over the course of the song. The singer Morrison most closely resembles, though, is New Orleans’ upstart Marc Broussard, whose inconsistent debut a couple of years back had a similar flavor, albeit with much more in the way of high points.

Cliché is a big problem here. On certain songs, the lyrics are so ordinary that you can pretty much suss out the next line before it’s even sung. The album’s title track is a quasi-inspirational ballad-by-numbers, right down to the crescendo and the church choir jumping in for the song’s final chorus. The opening tune, “Under the Influence”, contains faint “accidental” call-and-response vocals and applause at the end that’s supposed to give it an off-the-cuff, “just hanging out” type of feel, but all those unnecessary additives do is make the song sound annoyingly precious.

It’s a situation that’s plagued young singers from Joss Stone to Beyoncé. What do you do when a singer has obviously learned everything right vocally but lacks the emotional balls to pull the songs off? While there are echoes of everything from the summery ease of Stevie Wonder to shouting matches in the manner of Otis Redding, that’s all they are-echoes. Ultimately, Undiscovered sounds like an authentic soul record after being run through a Xerox machine eight or nine times. It’s a pale facsimile, with all of the life and color drained out. It took Stone three albums to find her true voice, let’s see if Morrison gets the chance to develop in the same manner.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.