Memories, the long anticipated debut album from soulful singer Ady Suleiman has finally arrived. Suleiman first hit the Brightonsfinest radar when he appeared at The Great Escape, way back in 2015, but he’s been a signed artist in development since 2013. I stepped in to review a live show when he kicked off a UK tour at the Green Door Store, just over two years ago. I was seriously blown away – largely because what I saw was totally unexpected, given my preparation of listening to a few single releases on Spotify. To me it seemed like there was a big mismatch between this guy’s releases and his live show. I found his often jazzy, emotive material came to life in the hands of these live performers, whereas what I heard in the recordings was much more electronic, sample-based and hyped. This may just be personal taste, but I think it’s a lot harder to make a computer sound soulful, when compared to a musician with a microphone or an instrument in their hands. After the show I spent weeks obsessing over all the live YouTube videos there are of Ady, often accompanied by guitarist Ed Black, performing live, stripped-back and beautiful versions of his fantastic songs.
It was with some trepidation then that I hit play on Memories. I couldn’t help having a strong desire to hear what I’d heard on that stage that night captured in the studio, rather than a major producer showing off their own chops, and colouring the material unnecessarily. From the off I could tell things had changed – while there’s no denying that this is pop music, with contemporary pop production, the drums sound more natural than before and the soft guitar tones that dominate live are back at the fore where they belong.
The album opens with ‘I Remember’, which marks an interesting choice. Back when I saw the band a couple of years ago he was calling for the audience to suggest more radio-friendly lyrics than: “I remember when we were fucking”. To then go on to open the album with this line seems like a mission statement: this is my record and it’s going to be the way I want it to be. Reading up on the last couple of years to discover the reason for the album’s delay, I found out that shortly after that tour Suleiman had chosen to separate from Syco – Simon Cowell’s management company – who had signed him back in 2013. I suspect these guys would have had a big influence in steering the artist in a more mainstream pop direction, one that he has somewhat rejected with this release.
This album then is the product of Suleiman spending a couple of years trying to reclaim his songs and, in taking on co-production duties, he’s taken a personal hand in steering the sound back to a place where he feels comfortable, whilst trying to ensure his debut is a cohesive record that flows from song to song. He’s achieved what he set out to do with spades: the album is gorgeous and beautifully affective. It still has choruses that will pop on radio airwaves, but it’s focussed on the soulful beating heart at its centre. Moments like ‘Longing For Your Love’, with its luscious strings, stop you in your tracks. While it is followed by a song like ‘Serious’ which almost sounds like a serious band covering a boy band song – the chorus is almost too pop perfect, but the delivery lends it authenticity, easily incorporating some reggae elements which might sound shoe-horned in less considered hands.
Suleiman’s struggles with mental health, which are no doubt another factor delaying this album’s release, get some coverage here, lyrically, in the subtly re-worked version of floor-filling single ‘So Lost’ (“I’ve been so lost in my mind/I can’t find a way back into life”) and ‘Not Giving Up’, which is so laid back it’s practically horizontal, despite its triumph-over-adversity subject matter. Suleiman is a talented writer, the album traverses genres with ease: jazz, hip-hop, r’n’b, soul, reggae and more get a look-in. From this strong starting point he could turn his hand to anything, but I’d love to see him become our modern equivalent of Marvin Gaye, a direction which songs like ‘If I Die’ clearly point in. There are a whole bunch of artists out there lately charting a course through similarly smooth and soulful territory: this is the place where Suleiman’s voice sounds most at home. With this fantastic body of work he stakes his claim as one of the leading lights of this sphere. Put on your best ears and give this album a listen, you won’t regret it.