Paolo Nutini’s Mixed, Moody, Soulful Prequel to ‘Caustic Love’

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Paolo Nutini‘s Caustic Love will finally be here September 16, 2014. Earlier this year he released one teaser of an EP; Iron Sky features five tracks to prequel the Scotland native’s much-anticipated album. Moody, impassioned, and dramatic, Iron Sky sounds like Adele’s Skyfall with less “Florence the Machine” and more soulful trumpet refrains. While words themselves are sometimes over-enunciated (“religion” is “religeeonnn” and “fear” has two syllables), it all blends smoothly together in his articulate, raspy croon. In the bridge, Nutini inserts Charlie Chaplin‘s quote known for the phrase “The hate of men will pass, and dictators die” ending with “Let us all unite!” While it’s strong and progressive, it’s hard to imagine this six-minute song as belonging anywhere other than another James Bond-ish movie, or as the soundtrack to a very, very rainy day.

But the next two tracks don’t let up on the tragedy-ballad downpour, which is a little different for those of us who know Nutini for soulful-yet-sunny-day-drive tunes “New Shoes” and “Last Request.” Second song “Let Me Down Easy” has a great quote nestled among truisms and lovelorn laments: “If every fool wore a crown, I would be a king and not a clown.” It’s a bummer the rest of it fails to be as original. Third track “One Day” sounds like a sad man standing (yes, in the rain) outside his former lover’s house. This would be fine if he didn’t stand there for over five minutes in this long retrospective song apparently about the day they split. It doesn’t help that he wails “I’ll cry and you cry and we’ll cry till the rain turns black” before repeating his refrain a few too many times: “I’ll be gone in a while.”

A welcome surprise, “Scream (Funk My Life Up)” picks it up a little. It’s still a little moody, but the beat follows the pace of a noir secret agent’s stride, with the pep of a love-struck adolescent. Nutini moans “And the girl’s so fine, she makes you wanna / scream Hallelujah!” with almost religious conviction. Between the funk of the trumpets and the trademark way Nutini slides into some face-paced praise (“She’s the bass, she’s the beat, she’s the rhythm, she’s the band”), it would have made a great single.

We’re back to cloudy ambiance with the acoustic version of “Better Man,” carried by a soft melodic chord progression that could’ve been penned by Jack Johnson. But the lyrics come from the fallback inspiration of subpar country songs: “I took her down Bleeker Street, saw she drank the way I drink… that girl makes me wanna be a better man… You’d trade all the money in the world just to see this girl smile.” It’s sweet, but it’s neither fresh nor funky.

On the whole, it’s still the right EP to forecast Caustic Love. While it wades too deep into some uninspired blues, it gives us proof of Nutini’s dramatic flair and a little hope (with “Scream”) that his feel-good rhythms aren’t gone for good.