Lewis Capaldi: Broken By Desire to Be Heavenly Sent review | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week
Lewis Capaldi: Broken By Desire to Be Heavenly Sent review | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week –
Last month, the 90-minute documentary Lewis Capaldi: How I’m Feeling Now premiered on Netflix. Its effect on the singer’s sales figures was almost instantaneous. Singles that were dropping out of the charts suddenly reversed their course. When his latest, Wish You the Best, came in at No 1, Capaldi had three singles in the Top 20. For good measure, he also had a Top 5 album, 2019’s deathless Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent having also enjoyed its umpteenth surge in sales and streams.
Well, of course it did. If there was a lesson to be learned from the unexpected, Stranger Things-fuelled ascent of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, it’s that, in the 2020s, nothing drives sales and streaming figures quite like telly. Nevertheless, it seems a little odd in the case of How I’m Feeling Now, a harrowing study of the weight of responsibility that comes with selling 10m albums – the moment, as Capaldi puts it, when you realise an array of people are “depending” on your continued success. It’s filled with haunting images – the ashen faces of Capaldi’s parents when he attempts to brush off a twitch later diagnosed as Tourette syndrome; the distressing footage of the singer having a panic attack midway through a gig at Wembley Arena; the sight of Capaldi, tics raging as his manager lectures him on the necessity to not “fuck it up” – that linger in the mind far longer than the apparently happy ending: Capaldi back at No 1, his mental health in check, everyone wreathed in smiles. You find yourself wondering whether another huge hit album is what he needs – whether it might not be better in the long run if he was just left in peace to enjoy the fruits of his debut album’s success.
But on the evidence of the documentary’s effect on the charts, and indeed of Broken By Desire to Be Heavenly Sent, that isn’t going to happen. Capaldi has been bullish about his second album offering more of the same – not, he’s suggested, because he’s repeating a formula, but because this is the music he wants to make – and he isn’t joking. The mid-tempo Forget Me, which sounds a little like the Lighthouse Family’s pop-soul, represents the most dramatic departure, unless you count the Max Martin co-write Leave Me Slowly, which steers Capaldi towards an old-fashioned 80s power ballad – 3am on Mellow Magic electric piano, widdly-woo guitar solo, a break for an In the Air Tonight drum roll – rather than the 21st-century equivalent which made his name.
The homogeneity has its drawbacks – there are moments where the Hey Jude-by-way-of-Coldplay piano intros and wounded, roaring choruses merge into one long heartbroken ballad – and occasionally points up his limitations. He’s better at misery than soaring happiness; if Pointless is his most coolly received recent single, it might have less to do with his audience demanding more of the same than the fact that his lunge for wedding first-dance ubiquity lands a little flat and sappy. But it also highlights that, within the confines of what he does, Capaldi is authentically skilled. It’s impossible to hear the choruses of Haven’t You Ever Been in Love Before? or Wish You the Best without automatically imagining a stadium full of people singing along, which says something about their efficacy.