Passenger – Whispers

So, how DOES Mike Rosenberg take on board sudden pop stardom and commercial success? As a man who has constantly tread the boards around the world since 2009, as a troubadour in effect, would the fire still be in his belly?

The answer seems to be a decisive yes. Although some of the songs here were written before his sky rocketing fortunes thanks to the ‘Let Her Go’ phenomenon (number one in 20 countries), others were written more recently and Rosenberg, ever the melancholic soul – who likes to sing about breaking up, messing up and cracking up – remains the consummate fighter, a man who despite the gloom will always see the light…

Which is why many like him; he’s the perfect antidote for all that frivolous jollity and optimism that emanates from the mouths of say Mumford & Sons. Never underestimate the power of sadness, regret and misfortune – it is after all something we can all easily relate to and when someone else sings about it as well as Rosenberg does and with that essential underpinning of uplifting optimism – which is what the best musical melancholia has – we soldier on, because what else is there to do?

Let’s deal with the facts: ‘Whispers’ was recorded in the same Sydney studio he had recorded his previous three albums, all of whom were done on a shoestring budget and with limited availability. It was, according to Mike for an earlier interview conducted with Brightonsfinest, financed by himself. Admittedly not such an issue now – money has become for him less of a scarce resource – but still a very admirable fact, demonstrating his continuing desire to be his own man and to control his destiny as much as possible (as well as cutting out the middle men) and using many of the same musicians as before. So, continuity is obviously important to him and it shows; there’s nothing flashy – production wise – he’s tried to keep it simple and relatively straightforward although there are more brass and string flourishes than before and his musical palette is expanding ever-so-slightly. As well as the afro-caribbean vibes of opening track ‘Coins In A Fountain’ and on the less convincing ‘Thunder’, there are some country flavours permeating throughout, particularly on ‘Bullets’ and the subtle Ennio Moriconne spaghetti western vibe of ‘Start A Fire’.

“Love is the only song I sing until I can’t sing no more,” he sings on the gently rhythmic ‘Coins In A Fountain’, a notion he somewhat disabuses with the startling lyrics of the rousing ’27’, a song ABOUT being 27 yeas of age (he is now 29) and almost like a State of the Person address – facts and figures abound in assessing his state of affairs at the time: “I’ve written 600 songs and 12 get sung/ And 87000 cigarettes have passed through these lungs and every single day I’d wish I’d not smoked one/ eight years of sleeping, I’m still tired when I wake up/five proper girlfriends and five messy break ups”.

Underlying this litany of regret and disappointment though comes the light: “I write songs that come from the heart, I don’t give a fuck if they get to the chart”

“I don’t know where I’m running, but I know how to run/I don’t know what I’m doing, I know what i’ve done” Throughout Rosenberg is an engaging storyteller, helped along by his often gentle, fingerpicking style, for instance on ‘Hearts on Fire’. Again love may be lost, but it’s celebratory nonetheless and on the sweet ‘Rolling Stone’, Rosenberg comes up with some of his best lines: “Sometimes I feel I’m going nowhere, sometimes I’m sure I never will/She says because it’s because I’m always moving, I never notice cause I never stand still/Sometimes I feel like I’m falling, falling fast and falling free/She says ‘my darling, you’re not falling, always look like you’re flying to me'”

Occasionally he does speak from the third person as on the slightly odd ‘Bullets’. While on ‘Golden Leaves’, Rosenberg steps out of himself a little, adopting an unlikely euro-crooner stance.

Title track and lead single ‘Whispers’ is another beautifully crafted song, finger picked guitar accompanied by kick drum, mournful harmonies and strings before it strikes out at the end. “I have a light that shines, a love so pure/ but I don’t know what to use them for. I should know by now”.

Throughout there is a musical purity to Passenger, only once is the natural acoustica shaken up the unexpected use of electronic pads on ‘Riding To New York, otherwise a rather underwhelming song’.

‘Scare Away The Dark’ is a slightly cheesy, lighters-in-the-air rousing finale, a call to forget all your lack of confidences and what our elders/parents tell us we should be doing. “Sing at the top of your voice, love without fear in your heart, feel like you still have a choice, if we all light up we can scare away the dark”.
 
While this can sound a bit like the evangelist, in typical Rosenberg fashion he throws in an angry tirade or two: “We’re all dying in front of fucking computers”.

There’s no doubt Rosenberg is a fine craftsman of song, a brilliant performer to boot – his total dedication to song and performance is his ace up the sleeve. While the couplets can sound a little like easy nursery rhymes, there can be no doubting his sincerity, while his singing is becoming better with each passing year.

Jeff Hemmings

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