Matt Hales, aka Aqualung, had all but given up his recording career and moved across the pond into production & songwriting.  It’s to our benefit that he had a change of heart along the way.  ‘10 Futures’ is Aqualung’s fifth album (not counting compilations) – and also Hales’ first for five years.  Things are somewhat different for this outing though – something immediately obvious from the track listing and also during the first listen of the album.

What Hales has essentially done is invited a number of the people he’s worked with over the past few years to perform guest vocals on tracks which he’s been baking.  It’s a nice idea.  For those of you who don’t know Aqualung, it’s fair to say that their sound sits somewhere between Coldplay, Guillemots, Keane and possibly even Radiohead.  If you’re new to them, look up the tracks Brighter Than Sunshine or 7 Keys.  Over the years, I’ve recommended the band to a fair few friends and pretty much all of them told me that they couldn’t believe that they hadn’t heard of them and also that they couldn’t stop playing their albums. 

I first discovered Aqualung around the time of the second album, Still Life.  I recall thinking that they could have been a serious rival to Coldplay.  That they never took off commercially is one of life’s mysteries.

Tape 2 Tape kicks things off and I actually did a double-take as it really doesn’t have any of the usual hallmarks of an Aqualung piece.  The track, along with Joel Compass’s vocals, could easily feature on a Jason Mraz or Justin Timberlake album.  I was about to say that Eggshells is a cracking tune (excuse the pun!), as it contains all the typical hallmarks of Aqualung – great song writing, a great melody, and a clean, polished & full production – but it also benefits from some delicious, sultry vocals from Lianne La Havas.  Similarly, Be Beautiful is to Aqualung what ‘Viva La Vida’ is to Coldplay – a great pop tune.  Likewise, Hearts has a great melody which simply sucks you in.

Despite any initial reservations which Aqualung fans might have, I can’t really foresee anybody being disappointed.  The idea of bringing guest vocalists on board is nothing new, but it works so well here.  We’re treated to standard Hales fare such as ‘Seventeens’, but this is nicely bookended by tracks which take the band on a completely different track, with some songs leaning more towards pop than rock.  I was delighted to see Tim Elsenburg from Sweet Billy Pilgrim pop up as the guest vocalist on ‘Clean’.  His singing style suits the track so well.

10 Futures delivers a nice, uncluttered overall performance with lots of space for instrumentation and vocals.  The production is polished but not to the extent where the soul of the music is erased away.  There is a lot of variation in terms of the musical themes explored which has resulted in an early gift for 2015.  From my perspective, it’s a gift I’ll be treasuring.

Paul Lockett

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