Album Review: Jamie Cullum, “The Pursuit” (2009)

I love Jamie Cullum.  I love everything about him- his unique brand of jazz/pop infused music, the fact that he puts on the best live performance I’ve ever seen, the way he dances on top of his piano at shows and even the fact that he’s broken over 20 of them from doing said activity.  I love his music, his voice, his songwriting, and his personality.  I love everything about the man and his talent, so, of course, I was overjoyed when he finally released a follow up to his 2005 album, Catching Tales.

His latest effort, The Pursuit, has still yet to be released in the United States, but being the rabid fan that I am, I had a copy of it shipped over from the UK as soon as I could.  Before I put the CD into my laptop, I waited with bated breath, and when I had finished listening to the album, the emotion most present inside of me was pure and utter joy- because Cullum had done it again.

The disc opens with Just One Of Those Things, a cover of a Cole Porter song.  I wasn’t thrilled about the album starting with a cover; Cullum’s career began with him mostly doing covers, but since Catching Tales, we’ve seen his original stuff, and I’d been looking forward to more of that.  Just One Of Those Things is a nice, upbeat start to the album, however, it sounds like it would’ve fit in better on Cullum’s debut disc (which is almost entirely cover songs), Pointless Nostalgic.

Cullum must’ve got my memo and follows up with I’m All Over It, an original song.  The track begins with a bouncy piano melody which flows throughout, and the song can best be described as pure, unadulterated fun.  I can’t help but smile as the chorus arrives, and Cullum and a group of his friends sing, “I’m all over it now, and I can’t say how glad I am about that!”  The song is a cheerful kiss off to a relationship and the lyrics ring true to anyone who’s ever felt this way (“I’m all over it now/‘Cause I worked and I cursed and I cried/And I said I could change but I lied/Well, there’s something still moves me inside/No I won’t come back”).  The track also played as the album’s first single and it was a perfect choice; the song is cheery, upbeat and one of my favorites.

The tempo is slowed down a bit for Wheels, another original song.   Wheels is a sort of symphonic delight; percussion, guitar and piano make up a beautiful melody that sounds like something you might hear on a Coldplay album.  Even the lyrics are full of imagery (“Friday night and everything’s a-ok/We are living like we’ve always known a different way/We are taking all the different roads before I go/It will bring you back around to the one you know/… Is it something that I’ve never, something that I’ve never had?/Tell you what I’ve heard/The wheels are falling off, The wheels are falling off the world”), and Cullum’s soulful delivery makes the song an absolute delight.

Next up is If I Ruled The World, a cover of the classic Harry Secombe song (also covered by Tony Bennett).  I’ve never heard any other version of this song, but I’m absolutely in love with this version of it.  In fact, at this moment, I’ve listened to it 103 times on my laptop, alone…not to count the times I’ve listened on my iPod, in my CD player, or in my car.  Though Cullum didn’t pen the lyrics himself, they must be noted (“If I ruled the world/Every man would say the world was his friend/There’d be happiness that no man could end/No, my friend, not if I ruled the world/Every head would be held up high/There’d be sunshine in everyone’s sky/If the day ever dawned/When I ruled the world”); what I enjoy most about the lyrics is that they go along so well with my general outlook on life.  But the lyrics aren’t the only thing about this song that makes it so wonderful; it’s Cullum’s overall delivery.  Cullum’s vocals give me the chills in this song- he sings so passionately, so completely, so fully- you can almost hear the sound of yearning in his voice, you can almost hear him singing this from the rooftops as he cries throughout the chorus and verses.  Even the piano seems to be singing; the piano break towards the middle of the song is simply exquisite, and it lasts just long enough for the listener to fall in love, before Cullum breaks back in with his heartfelt refrain.  I just love this song, and it’s easily one of the best in Cullum’s catalog.

The pace picks right back up with You And Me Are Gone, a song significantly less awkward than its title.  Hand claps, drums, and fast-paced piano make up this jaunty little number about the end of a relationship.  The melody is jazzy and great, and the original song is a great addition to the album.

Cullum returns to covers, but this time it’s an unlikely one, as he tackles Rihanna’s Don’t Stop The Music.  Cullum is known amongst his fans for doing covers of pop songs- he’s famously covered Pharell’s “Frontin’” on his sophomore album, and I’ve seen him cover The Pussycat Dolls, Kelly Clarkson and Radiohead in concert.  This song, however, is probably my favorite of his contemporary covers.  Cullum was originally planning to cover Rihanna’s hit, “Umbrella”, but after the numerous other renditions, chose her secondary hit from the same album- a fast paced, club number.  However, Cullum’s treatment slows down the track, creating a sultry number that almost always puts me in an amorous mood.  There’s just something about hearing Cullum croon the line, “Your hands around my waist, just let the music play; we’re hand in hand, chest to chest, and now we’re face to face” over a seductive jazz back beat.  Even the piano and drums create a smoky atmosphere that goes along great with the song.  Whoever knew a club hit could become a sexy jazz number?  Sophie Dahl (a British model whom Cullum recently married) is a very lucky woman, indeed.

Cullum actually touches on his relationship with Dahl a bit on the next song, Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down.  Cullum wrote the song after falling in love with Dahl, and that’s made apparent in the blissfully romantic lyrics (“So you wear your heart like a brooch for all to see /But the blood that pumps through/So will you save that for me /I’ve sweetened my tongue /And I’ve sharpened my words and my wit/And I’ve written my lines/Because love ain’t gonna let you down”).   The song is slower than some of the others on the album, but is still incredibly pleasant, and anyone who is in love or has ever been in love could greatly relate.
Mixtape is another incredibly romantic song, though in unconventional ways.  This time around, Cullum sings about everyone’s classic go-to move in the beginning of a relationship- making  a mix tape.  The lyrics are sharp and witty (“Do you even haven tape machine?/To facilitate my plastic dreams/All the things that I have seen, from Morrissey to John Coltrane…/ I’ll make you a mixtape that will charm you into bed /It details everything that’s running round my head ”), and the melody is appropriately fun and cheerful.  Meanwhile, We Run Things, is another upbeat song.  Lyrically, the song doesn’t say much (“’Cause I’m trying to hold on to something/Yeah, ’cause if you let me/I’ll show ya/I’ll do it, can ya’ hear it?/We run things another way,”), but the melody is catchy, the instrumentation (particularly the piano and horn) is beautiful, and Cullum’s vocal delivery is simply lovely.
I Think, I Love is another love ballad, though, again, not a stereotypical one.   The lyrics in the second verse (“Remember that time you threw a can of beer at me like a stone/You drunk too much wine and threw up in the taxicab on the way home/It looked like a mess but I must confess/Baby I think I love you today”) are some of my favorites, because Cullum describes love in a very real way; when you’re in love with someone, you love everything about them- even their imperfections.  The song has a very intimate feel to it- it’s almost as if Cullum is sitting in front of you, playing his piano- the recording is slightly scratchy and very lo-fi and you can even hear him breathing at the beginning and end of the track.  It’s a nice touch, which especially works well on such an emotional song.

One of the things I love about Jamie Cullum is that he can turn a song that I don’t care much for into a complete masterpiece.  Most times I tend to prefer his covers of songs to the original, and his rendition of Not While I’m Around is no exception.  I love Stephen Sondheim’s music for Sweeney Todd, but the ballad towards the end of the musical has always rubbed me the wrong way; sure, the feeling behind it is sweet, but the song is overly syrupy, in ways that even I can’t appreciate.  However, Cullum’s treatment of the song spices it up some- by adding in drumming, speeding things up a bit, and turning the ballad into a dazzling treat.   Again, Cullum seems to be singing his heart out, particularly as he reaches the third chorus (“Demons’ll charm you with a smile, for a while/But in time/Nothing can harm you /Not while I’m around.”).  The piano break during the middle of the song includes Cullum and his backup singers in a chorus of harmonizing which makes the song even more powerful and literally brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it.  Simply put- the song is absolutely beautiful.

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and we see the end with aptly titled, Music Is Through.  This song blows my mind every time I listen to it, for various reasons.  First of all, the song can best be described as house music.  Yes, Jamie Cullum, best known for jazz/pop music, produced a house song- a throbbing club beat backs the music, and the horns, piano, drums and electric blips that play along in the background would keep time perfectly with strobe lights.  Secondly, the lyrics are clearly about hooking up with someone in a club (“If you look like you wanna, baby I don’t mind if I do/Girl, I got your number/Call you when the music is through ”).  Cullum even drops the F-bomb as he sings, “If you wanna f*ck with me, then you gotta get me down ”.  I remember giggling like a little girl for a full five minutes the first time I heard that line.  All of this probably sounds like a train wreck on paper- what does a jazz musician know about house music, hooking up in clubs, or foul language?  However, the song is one of my absolute favorites- because somehow, someway, Cullum manages to throw all those ingredients together and make an insanely sexy and classy song that I can’t stop listening to- even now, months after the album has been released.  Like most house/club music, the track runs a little over seven minutes long, but each minute is utterly amazing, and if anyone doubted Cullum’s wide-ranging musicianship, they can put those doubts away after hearing this track.

The Pursuit is easily Jamie Cullum’s best effort to date.  Each song is a perfect ten, and Cullum has shown the world that he’s an amazing singer, lyricist, and overall musician.  The album has something for everybody- beautiful ballads, catchy radio hits, and covers that’ll make you forget the originals. I’m proud to call myself a fan of Cullum’s music, and I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve next.

Rating: 5_stars.svg
Track Listing
1. Just One of Those Things
2. I’m All Over It
3. Wheels
4. If I Ruled the World
5. You and Me are Gone
6. Don’t Stop the Music
7. Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down
8. Mixtape
9. I Think, I Love
10. We Run Things
11. Not While I’m Around
12. Music is Through


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