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album review: That Joe Payne

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That Joe Payne

By Name. By Nature

The former singer of The Enid has come a long way in the past decade, and the arrival of his fully-fledged debut album has given That Joe Payne much to shout about.

The man from Tring gave voice to the mostly-instrumental, Northampton-based Enid. He helped send the band, over four albums, into a more sustained operatic and theatrical direction. Nevertheless it didn’t work out between the parties, and the result is a rebirth for Payne in the solo format. His taste clearly wide-reaching; he wanted and is now able to work his five octave range in a more personal direction.

By Name. By Nature has been worked on for over two years, and you can tell it’s been lovingly poured over; thought out, worked and reworked. This album takes the listener on a journey – so far, so prog – but this album isn’t operating in a world of prog-rock. This is prog-pop, and that is a very different proposition.

He’s taken everything learnt in the band environment, honed his songwriting chops, and delivered a frankly breathtaking work. His playful outlook is right there from the opening seconds. He lures us in with opening mood-piece track ‘The Thing About Me Is’, which sounds like a typically scene-setting deep-prog album opener. Then he hits you with the title track, which has babbling electronic/symphonic tones to start – before a sudden gear-shift into a pacey dance number. “That Joe Payne/Is gonna ruin your life” is the lacerating accusation that he has turned on its head and reclaims as a badge of honour. It’s a tune, it’s a banger, as they say. ‘Nice Boy’ is a built around a choral line rubbing up against an R&B/pop rhythm; it’s tone both spirited and defiant.

‘In My Head’ is a sorrowful tale, the melancholy dripping from every syllable of lines like “He’s a monster/But he’s allied with my friends”. Uncomfortable listening, but a necessary exorcism. ‘What is the World Coming To’, meanwhile, is an epic, Mercury-style pop-rock ballad that underpins his mental uncertainties after the band split. The chorus has a melodic classicism that is hard to resist.

‘I Need A Change’ was the first single back in 2018, and it is his masterwork so far, all eight minutes of gentle musical suites that marries classical notes on his trusty piano to deep, prog, sonic judders – all to deliver a emotional tour de force. ‘End Of The Tunnel’ is another delicate ballad, a beacon of hope in troubled times. When he sings “You know there is a light there” you intrinsically know he is directing the message to himself.

The CD version of the album finishes with two bonus tracks. ‘Music For A While’ see Payne cover baroque favourite Henry Purcell to nice effect, adding his own musical touches too, whilst ‘Moonlit Love’ is Ludwig with a voice. It’s a beautiful finish to a compelling album. Shout out to Max Read on co-production duties and musical input on these last two and indeed the whole album; he has helped steer the good ship along with his respected skill and multiple talents.

Payne’s current fanbase is presumably mostly from the Enid world, yet these songs should take him into other, bigger worlds too. With his exquisite, soulful voice he’s arguably a modern-day Elton John or George Michael – this is entertainment driven by personality. It’s been quite a change for Payne since 2016, and this summation of his journey is a very welcome addition to the music world in 2020. Sometimes great upheaval can produce great art, and that is starkly clear over these ten tracks.

Phil Moore

By Name. By Nature is out now on CD, vinyl and digital.
Photo by Martin Reijman

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