Album Review: Paolo Nutini, “These Streets” (2006)

I’m a sucker for a man with an accent.  I’m not sure what it is, but as soon as I hear a man speak in a British, Irish, or heck, even a Canadian accent, I’m sold.  My boyfriend is Australian, so that just proves my love for men with accents.  And when I hear a man with an accent sing?  Well, then I’m absolutely in love.

From the first time I heard Scottish musician, Paolo Nutini, perform on TV, I was hooked.  His beautiful brogue was pronounced in his husky vocals, and not only did he sound good, but his song was also well-written and catchy.  It was a no-brainer to purchase Nutini’s debut album, These Streets, after just hearing one song; I knew I’d love it and I was absolutely right.

These Streets (released in 2006) is a fantastic debut.  Nutini co-wrote all the songs (he teamed up with Scottish musician Jim Duguid, and a few other songwriters), and the result is a wonderful, introspective album of rock songs and sensitive guitar ballads.

The disc begins with upbeat number, Jenny Don’t Be Hasty.  Nutini’s raspy vocals are certainly a highlight, but the rockin’ guitar riff and percussion really play a big part in the song’s fun.  Lyrically, the song describes an autobiographical story of Nutini trying to convince an older woman to date him, and the quirky lyrics and sound provide an awesome start to the album.

The pace immediately slows down with sultry mid-tempo ballad, Last Request.  The guitar from the previous song has been scaled back, and Nutini’s vocal delivery is just as mellow, creating a beautiful, sensitive ballad.  The chorus is extremely catchy (“Grant my last request/And just let me hold you/Don’t shrug your shoulders/Lay down beside me/Sure I can accept that we’re going nowhere/But one last time let’s go there/Lay down beside me”), and I often find myself randomly humming this song throughout the day.  Rewind continues the theme of heartbreak and reflection.   Acoustic guitar serves as the main instrument, as Nutini mournfully sings of the end of a relationship (“Picking up the pieces/Of the wreck you went and left/And I’m dealing with dilemmas/In my now so stressful life/And I’m drinking stronger spirits/I made my home here on the floor/And I’m losing all ambition and goals”).  The song is held up by its deeply personal lyrics, but it’s equally pleasing to just sit back and listen to Nutini sing.

Title track, These Streets, has a very lo-fi feel to it, thanks to the opening acoustic guitar and harmonica. The intimate sound works well, as if Nutini just picked up his guitar and is sitting in his living room, singing just to you.  The directionless feeling of the song is portrayed perfectly in the thoughtful lyrics (“Suddenly the air smells much greener now/And I’m wandering around/With a half pack of cigarettes/Searching for the change that I’ve lost somehow/These streets have too many names for me…/I’ll get used to this eventually/I know, I know”), and I can personally relate to moving to a new city and feeling a bit lost.  The reflective lyrics really make the song a favourite of mine.

Paolo Nutini - St. Gallen, Switzerland, 22 July 2012

The whole album isn’t ballads, however.  New Shoes is the first song I ever heard by Nutini, and it’s easy to remember why I got hooked on him so easily- the bouncy sound, carefree lyrics (“Hey, I put some new shoes on/And suddenly everything is right/I said, hey, I put some new shoes on and everybody’s smiling/It’s so inviting ”), and memorable melody made the track one that I couldn’t stop listening to.  Soulful track, Loving You, is perfectly suited for Nutini’s gravelly vocals.  He sounds like an authentic soul singer as he belts out the chorus and the handclaps that appear during the bridge really liven up the track.

One of the best parts about the album is that it honestly doesn’t have many dull spots.  Maybe it’s due to how short the disc is (only 10 songs, and 47 minutes long), or maybe it’s just a testament to Nutini’s talent as a singer-songwriter, but every song is perfectly listenable, and I feel like some of the songs I personally overlook could easily be someone else’s favourite song.  Million Faces is a bit forgettable overall, as we’ve heard this same subdued melody already with Last Request, but Nutini’s voice is as warm and pleasing to listen to as always.  Meanwhile, hushed ballad, White Lies, is definitely pretty to listen to (seriously, I could listen to Nutini’s voice all day long), especially with the violin in the background, but it doesn’t go anywhere very remarkable musically or lyrically.  Not a skip, but it’s not a song I automatically skip to when I play the album.  Piano-based ballad, Autumn, sounds a bit similar to White Lies, actually, though Nutini’s vocals are more pronounced, especially as he cries out during some of the verses.  His emotional delivery is well-received, but the quiet sound doesn’t do much to make the song stand out for me.

The album ends with Alloway Grove, an energetic track, mostly notable for the lively instrumentation of drums, keyboards, and what sounds like a tambourine.  Nutini’s animated delivery is highlighted by the catchy refrain, and the song is a nice, cheerful end to the album.  However, several minutes after the song ends, a “hidden track” is introduced in what turns out to be an acoustic version of Last Request.  The acoustic version sounds almost exactly the same, except Nutini’s vocals are a lot stronger and convincing this time around; he sounds to really be begging for one more chance, and his passionate delivery is heartbreakingly beautiful.  I was happy with Alloway Grove ending the album, but I actually think Last Request is a better choice; the stripped back sound lends to more focus on Nutini’s impressive vocals, and really cements him as a strong vocalist.

These Streets
is a great album.  Paolo Nutini is both a talented singer and songwriter; in the songs where his vocals are the main focus he really shines, but he’s also able to write a honest, relatable song, with a good melody, to boot.  I’m extremely happy I took a chance on this album, and I’m sure you will be, too.

Rating: 5 stars

Track List
1. Jenny Don’t Be Hasty
2. Last Request
3. Rewind
4. Million Faces
5. These Streets
6. New Shoes
7. White Lies
8. Loving You
9. Autumn
10. Alloway Grove

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmbUNF1Q4R8]
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