Alan was an artist I completed a review for last year. After writing an article about his single, he kindly asked if I would review his new 12, yes TWELVE, track album ‘Healed’. I was honoured to be asked to do this for him. Having only heard a handful of Alan’s tracks, I was interested to see what he’d bring to the table with this fresh release. So buckle your seatbelt and let’s dive right in!
The first track “Transition” starts with the sound of an everyday street. Some cars driving past and voices faint in the background. At 20 seconds in, a string quartet appears almost out of nowhere. It’s elegant, chilled and stylish. A beautiful opener. After a minute or so, the strings stop, and the song turns back to the hustle and bustle of the street we had just heard 60 seconds earlier. I’m assuming that this could be the opener for Alan’s live shows as he walks on stage. It would certainly work. Whilst I was completing this review for Alan, I found out that the opening sound of the street was live audio from the street he grew up in, and the sound of the street after the string section was from the street he now lives on.. in Spain… lucky bugger!
The second track is called “Any Way I Can”. I reviewed this just last year as a single and I was happy to see it had made it onto the final album. The song starts a collection of vocal harmonies before Alan enters ‘the room’. His voice is inoffensive, soft, trustworthy and easy-going. The chord progression he has chosen for this track makes it a noteworthy listen. Alan has decided to take a few musical gambles with this record, and it pays off, it’s this progression, which sets this song aside from others of Alan’s I have heard.
In this song Alan cleverly combines the spirit of big band and soul with ingredients of a more modern pop outfit. Think strings and soulful harmonies but electronic drums, hand clips, clicks and organs. It’s fair to say this song could be played pretty much anywhere and it would suit its surroundings. Any Way I Can is an audible chameleon, which is a massive achievement for Alan.
It isn’t a particularly daring record, but Alan makes no secret of flying the flag of being uncomplicated, laid-back and full of character. What I like about him is that he’s seen a potential market for himself and he’s really gone for it.
The song ends suddenly after a chorus, which was a welcome surprise. I was expecting a fade out or big classical-styled finish. I don’t know what prompted him to do this, but I think it gives the song a bit more depth, edge and helps it stand out. The finish instantly made me want to listen again.
Track three is titled “The Twelfth Of Never”. After the up-beat sound of ‘Anyway I can’, I was interested to see where Alan would go next. The song starts with a late 90’s, Ibiza-like, sunset inspired synth with just a kick drum and tambourine.
At 16 seconds, the vocal comes in. The melody works well and is accompanied by little flickers of other synths across the ear drums. It’s enough to keep you captivated whilst the song builds. The chorus was, just like most of Alan’s work, catchy, entertaining and memorable. This track certainly pays tributes to some sort of Spanish beach bar. I really like the choice of synths in this song. When writing a song that is based just around synths, I think it’s easy to get carried away, but Alan always shows such materiality in his songwriting and production that this was super easy to listen to.
I do think it would have been worth Alan making an instrumental version, perhaps for a deluxe version of the album. I just love how everything flows so seamlessly. It’s another example of why this man is such a talent.
The fourth track from this album of 12 songs is called “But It Does”. The song opens with a guitar heavily influenced by funk accompanied by a Rhodes. One thing that Alan doesn’t scrimp on is production. With this entire record, you can hear the hours of blood, sweat and tears he has put into this project, and this song just had my head bopping (yes, I said bopping please move on).
The choice of drum kit was also great too, that short, snappy and sharp snare alongside the dry and tight bass really was an audible nod to the 70’s funk scene with a truly spectacular set of keys holding down some crazy chords.
The song had elements of RnB in there too. Out of all of Alan’s songs, this would be the one that I’d like to see him perform live. Why? Because it’s instantly likable, a little cheeky and I can imagine with a live band this just blows the roof off. Sometimes it’s great when a song sounds one way on an album and live it’s totally different. I hope Alan takes the key ingredients from this track to turn it into a powerhouse live.
Also, at 2 minutes 47 seconds, it is absolutely perfect for radio. I know I’ve said this about his music earlier, but Alan’s music could just be played anywhere, and it would be suited to its surroundings which is a huge achievement.
The song comes to an end with a short instrumental section and the chorus repeated a couple of times with synth-strings playing a bit of a romantic line across the top of everything else. Once again, the sudden end was unexpected, but it seems to be a bit of a signature sound for Alan.
Track number 5 on “Healed” is called “What You Didn’t Say”. The record commences with some percussion, which is quickly followed by a very ethnic sounding instrumental section leading promptly into the vocal. This was a really fascinating and curious moment from the album. Alan’s signature style took a back seat, and the start was one of his more experimental sounds.
When the vocal starts, it is accompanied and complimented by a female backing vocal. This adds an immediate layer of extravagance. As the song progresses, there are some big warps of rib-rattling bass which leads into the pre chorus. The groove of this is, again, very RnB and soul inspired. The chorus itself is utterly beautiful. I’d go as far as to say this is the most catchy record on the album. I love the use of the strings, the harp and the electronics. It all works so well.
The chord progression works well too. The higher end of the piano is being tinkered with a lot too. Usually, I think this can be quite off-putting, but for this, it all just works fabulously. The mid 8 was nice. It was quite film score-esque. It’s just Alan surrounded by tons of strings. It is dramatic and luxurious.
At the halfway point in the album, we are greeted by a song called “You Don’t”. The track starts with a delicately played piano. The pace of the song is much slower than what we have heard so far, and for me, this was a welcome break. Alan’s record, until this point had been a whirlwind of upbeat production, and whilst that’s great, it was nice to have the breather halfway through the album. Also, it was nice to hear the album dip in and out of time signatures. Alan jumps from 6/8 to 4/4 fairly easily. Whilst these are not exactly complex time signature changes, it also wouldn’t be Alan’s style to write something complex.
The song boasts ingredients of both classical and jazz. Most of the track is surrounded by a piano and a huge string section that just compliments Alan’s voice so well. There are a couple of occasions where drums momentarily enter the track, only to be quickly taken away, leaving us wanting more.
The female backing vocal from the track before makes another fleeting appearance which was a great shout for continuity (and because she sounds epic). It was at this point when I was listening to the track that I realised how versatile Alan really is. The instrumental section on this track could be used in a film score (yes I know I’ve said this about another track too!), but I really believe Alan would be missing a trick if he didn’t release a special edition of the album, with all the tracks but instrumental versions. They are so easy to listen to.
The song comes to an end with a fade out of strings, vocals and a synth leaving me wondering what the next song would bring. I liked the fade out of the instruments. The sounds he has chosen sounded a bit horror-movie-like.
The seventh song is called “Equal”. It starts with metallic sounding electronic drums. It’s the sort of thing you’d hear at a industrial house music club in Berlin, like Tressor (where I’ve actually been and… Anyway, I had a BIG hangover the next day).
Speaking honestly, this was probably my least favourite song on the album, I didn’t find it as mesmerizing as the others. I could see what Alan was trying to do, and whilst for others, it might work, for me it didn’t.
However, Alan does use his production talents to his advantage here. The keys and synths create a real cushion for Alan’s vocals to sit on nicely. Vocally, the performance is flawless and the synths panning from my left ear to my right increased my attention to this song. At 3 minutes, this house inspired soul track would work well on radio, but if I were to introduce Alan to a friend, it wouldn’t be with this track. Nevertheless, every album or EP has one left field (or experimental) song on it, and I think this was Alan’s.
“The Chase” is song number 8 on this mammoth album. Opening with some of his signature synth sounds, it was clear we were now back in the driving seat with this track. The song was upbeat, but very pleasant. Bass, piano and vocals carried the majority of the first 30 seconds, until more electronic sounds made their arrival. They mimicked what was happening on the piano during the chorus to create a real sense of togetherness across the whole song. With Alan’s work, there’s always a lot going on, but never too much to distract you from the main product, which is another huge feat for him.
I liked the chorus on this. It was another quickly catchy song with loads of interesting instruments being used. The line “chase dreams” stuck out for me. I think there are a lot of us out there in music that, because of this blasted virus have thrown in the towel with pursuing their dreams for financial reasons or for lack of motivation. It was nice to hear Alan say these words as it acts as a reminder to us all to chase our dreams.
The vocal harmony climb at 2 minutes 25 seconds was one of my favourite parts off the entire album. It was like Queen had briefly turned into an electronica band. The song ends with another selection of ethnic instruments carefully selected to create a sense of curiosity with a glitch sound FX right on the last second.
The album title track “Healed” is the ninth track on the album. It opens with the sound of broken glass and a Vangelis-inspired pulsating synth. As the vocal joins, the throbbing synth dips in and out while Alan takes centre stage. Once again, from a production value, this was flawless. I love the choice of sounds Alan uses to tease and tickle the ear drum.
I think this song demonstrates the velvet-like tone of Alan’s voice the most. There are some nice moments when Alan holds a note for a good few seconds, and it sounds really lovely. I would have liked to have heard more of this.
The song turns from being dreamy to lively and dynamic. The only thing I think lets this song down ever so slightly is the sound of the snare drum. Everything on this track sounds perfect, but the snare sounds like a bit of wrapping paper being hit with a drumstick. I know Alan is wanting to make each of his tracks stand out as much as possible, but I think a bit more depth and gut on the snare would have helped push this song to sound a bit better than it already is. But hey.. music is subjective right?
Throughout the song, as it progresses in pace, those signature synth sounds make another appearance. I think it’s at this point I realised that Alan loves a synth.. and there’s nothing wrong with that. As the song comes to an end, I was unsure which way he was going to go with it, but he goes with his classic sudden ending which I now know is his signature sound, and it sounds great.
Track 10 is called “I Think That You Know”. It starts with a wobbly sounding synthesiser which is one of the more experimental sounds I have heard so far on the album. Alan’s a big synth lover, but this sound had something very cool going on. The vocals enter, followed by gated drums and plenty of reverb on the snare. Alan uses his ability to create effortlessly brilliant vocal harmonies to build up to the chorus.
“Wake up, walk out, you have to go” is the opening line of the chorus. Immediately I’m emotionally and lyrically invested as to where this is going. Alan has an amazing ability to really tell a story through his music, but for me, the lyrics on this one stood out. The pace of the song isn’t particularly upbeat on this one, but each piece of distance between the beat creates a space that is needed to allow this song to breathe.
At 02:30 the song becomes really interesting. The synths replicate a muse-like fuzzy mid-8 which I would have really liked to hear more of. For me, this was the best part of the track. I felt it was Alan really letting go. As ever, an abrupt but pleasant ending leading me into track 11.
The penultimate song is called “Same Old You”. It starts with a piano playing a rich bluesy and soulful riff. This was a real change in the style of the rest of the album, and at 11 tracks in it was a welcome change. At 12 seconds in, a simple, laid back drum beat accompanies the main vocal. The three ingredients of drums, piano and vocals carry on for a short while until the bass creeps in nicely.
Alan’s infamous backing vocals join the track to build on an already magnificent sound. I really liked how the entire feel of the album changed in this song. I love the electronica stuff that Alan does, but this just felt so right.
As the song progresses, alongside all the other instruments, there is a lovely string section that accompanies the song… and just as I was thinking to myself “where’s the organ?”… an organ joined. The choice of instruments for this was perfect. This is certainly the ballad of the album, and at 4 minutes 35 seconds, it really is worth you investing time to listen to this song in its entirety.
And then we’re left with track 12. The final song from this album is called “Time Stand Still”. The song opens with a small string section that can just be heard, followed quickly by a piano introduction. The lead vocal and the piano are in the spotlight for the first minute.
At 1 minute 11 seconds, a choir joins Alan for the last song. The pace of the drums is momentarily African inspired before the song stops for 2 seconds whilst a clock can be heard ticking in the background. The ticking clock can be heard very faintly in the background for the remainder of the record which is very cool. For me, this song is Alan sounding at his most modern. Once again, Alan chooses a great selection of instruments and electronic synths and pads to enrich his sound as much as possible.
The song ends with the line “Time Stand Still” . The strings and pads are used as a fade out for the last remaining seconds.
I think it’s safe to say Alan is a Singer-Songwriter with a load of talent. He and his team’s choice of instruments on the album are just wonderfully thought out. The vocals are tuneful, consistent with the sound he has created and there are no moments where I feel Alan has over stretched himself. He knows his strengths and plays up to that.
“Healed” is an audible journey. There’s so much heart and soul that’s been poured into this musical effort. I think it’s the kind of album you could put on during mid afternoon drinks on a beach in Spain, or driving through a snow-ridden country road in the UK late at night.
What strikes me most with Alan is his ability to create such interesting and well produced tracks. I know Alan is the voice and face of his own project, but I would love to hear these tracks released as instrumental versions. Not for karaoke purposes, but to open the doors to other avenues of success like films, TV shows or games.
Overall, this was a fantastic effort and “Healed” was a pleasure to listen to.