Album Review: Aqualung, “Strange & Beautiful” (2005)

The name intrigued me. Was it the title of a band? Or a strange nickname? Aqualung’s CD was sitting in the Breakout Artists section at my local Target, but I decided to give the album a second look just because of the strange name. I had never heard of the CD, Strange & Beautiful, but a look at the track listing told me that I had heard the first single, Brighter Than Sunshine on the radio and during the incessant commercials for the movie, A Lot Like Love.

I decided to make an impulse purchase and buy the album, though I had no idea what it would sound like or if it would even be worth my $9.97. I’ll admit that the first few listens didn’t go over so well.

Matt Hales (who alone makes up Aqualung), hails from London and comes from a classically trained background. He composed his first song at 11, and his first symphony was performed by an orchestra at 17. He brings a lot of that training to life with Strange & Beautiful, along with his soft vocals, and slow melodies. Somehow, this combination makes for an album that you really have to listen to to appreciate- otherwise it can be nothing more than bland background music.

The album starts off on a subdued note with the title track, Strange & Beautiful (I’ll Put A Spell On You). The song, which is about unrequited love, starts off with a nice drum loop then subsides to soft piano. Falling Out Of Love picks up a bit in tempo with more drums and piano, though it gets a bit repetitive towards the end. Both songs are quite likable, but you’ll more than likely forget them as the album goes on.

Good Times Gonna Come changes up the sound a bit- mostly in Matt’s vocals. He seems to be very distraught as he sings, “This is just one of those/Lonely nights/Good times gonna come”, and it seems as though he’s trying harder to convince himself that things will get better instead of convincing us. In the end, the song comes off well, and leads into the aforementioned first single, Brighter Than Sunshine.

Marking the first truly up-tempo song on the album (and one of the few), Brighter Than Sunshine starts off with some bouncy piano work and drums. The song is very light compared to the rest on the album, and it’s easy to see why it was chosen as a first single.

Breaking My Heart, Tongue-Tied,and If I Fall mark the return of melancholy ballads, though it seems that Matt does these best. Breaking My Heart is a bit predictable, though Matt exercises his upper range in the chorus, which is nice. Tongue-Tied is quite a beautiful song, albeit sad. The song describes the feelings of someone in a bad relationship, and the repetition of the lyrics, “feels like the end” during the last thirty seconds of the song gives it a dramatic feel. If I Fall is another song stripped of production, yet lyrics like, “If I fall/Will you catch me?”, gives it more of an optimistic tone than some of the other tracks.

Songs like Left Behind, You Turn Me Around and Easier To Lie all have the same piano, drums, and Coldplay-esque sounding formula, and sort of blend together. Again, they’re nice songs to listen to at the time, but after the song is over, you tend to forget all about it.

The album ends with Extra Ordinary Thing and Another Little Hole. Extra Ordinary Thing has an upbeat, jaunty start, but slows down to be another ballad. The piano is beautiful here and is probably the highlight of the song. However, Another Little Hole is easily the second strongest track on the album (after Tongue-Tied). Again, the piano and Matt’s vocals make the song, but the lyrics are a bit interesting here too. As Matt sings, “This life can only/Leave us lonely/There’s no tomorrow/Just another little hole in my heart”, you can’t help but feel a bit depressed, but the fact that the song evokes emotion is a good sign to me.

Strange & Beautiful is a journey of quiet piano work and smooth vocals; if you want to sit down, listen for the subtle melodies and lyrics, then you’ll enjoy this album. Otherwise, you might want to just turn it on while you’re reading or studying- it also makes for great background music.

Rating:200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Strange & Beautiful (I’ll Put A Spell On You)
2. Falling Out Of Love
3. Good Times Gonna Come
4. Brighter Than Sunshine
5. Breaking My Heart
6. Tongue-tied
7. Left Behind
8. You Turn Me Round
9. If I Fall
10. Easier To Lie
11. Extra Ordinary Thing
12. Another Little Hole

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AN9ag5xhvY]
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