Album review: Rag ‘n’ Bone Man – Human

Rag n Bone Man

This month saw the fastest selling male debut album of the decade, beating giants Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. Human is the first full length release from rising star Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and it has already made a huge impact, winning the Brits critics’ choice award and receiving acclaim from across the globe.

Rory Graham blends blues with contemporary pop in a way that few can pull off, with his roots in the underground hip hop scene however, his back catalogue includes collaborations with Leaf Dog on the legendary High Focus Records as well as features on albums such as Jman’s Auranography alongside DJ Vadim and Dr. Syntax. As well as this he has some of his best music available on platforms such as Bandcamp, notably his successful Bluestown EP which as the title suggests its a tasteful modern homage to early blues, gospel and hip hop.

His brutally honest approach and deeply emotive vocals are in full effect on the albums title track Human, his gritty tone and unconventional style have been worked into a masterpiece by Mark crew; who has produced for the 32-year-old singer before. He really knows how to breathe even more life into an already thriving sound, with handclaps, moody piano, strings and male voices. The backing vocal sections are inspired, working with the handclaps to build towards a stunning key change before retreating back into a shy outro. Years of experience has only added his songwriting prowess, shown in the raw and honest chorus ‘I’m only human, after all, I’m only human after all don’t put he blame on me’. Accompanying the release in 2016 was an immersing video that echoes this honesty, with various everyday portrait shots including his own; minimal makeup, no fancy lighting and subtle camera trickery.

Skin is a story of unrequited love, something that has inspired countless great songs over the years. More contemporary pop production techniques once again marry sweetly with gospel choirs and an almost rock-like main vocal. Overall it sounds a touch more commercial but not to its detriment, this aesthetic will surely resonate with fans of Lana Del Ray. Once again the stand out feature is simply the charming tonality and colour of his singing, Skin is bound to be another hit even if it is a little blander than Human.

Unfortunately for some of his long-time fans there has undoubtedly been some watering-down of his sound at times, Die Easy on the other hand is a middle finger to that. He does this without making a fuss, he chooses to go accapella to ensure there are no distractions from his tough subject matter. In a definite nod to early blues songwriters he imagines his own death and conversations with the devil, roaring and growling as he convincingly tells the tale.

Human is Rag ‘n’ Bone Man’s debut album

The Fire boasts a sizzling beat, using electronic music techniques and clever sampling to modernise his soulful vocals. Production inspired by RJD2 and Bonobo almost takes centre stage for a change, with Graham providing the decoration. Your Way Or The Rope is a real case of opposites attracting, something that the Weeknd has perfected. The title suggests that the subject matter is suicide but what you hear is a funky, slow and sleazy disco track.  Another epic pop piece entitled Grace and the R&B flavours of Innocent Man round off the project, proving great versatility.

An avalanche of a debut album such as this can only mean good times ahead for Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, by reaching number 1 already and breaking records he certainly has arrived. With no doubt there is much more killer than filler, the production, vocals and songwriting are also consistent throughout. With so much manufactured, plastic pop music acts being prevalent in the charts it is always refreshing to hear somebody’s true voice, Rory Graham’s is one that you will be hearing a lot this year. Don’t take our word for it, why not come and enjoy the album on our over-ear headphones in store at Richer Sounds?