Tom Odell – Ivor Novello-winning songwriting sensation, precocious master of the ivories – is at the very top of his game. It’s not as if, with multiple awards and 1.8 million sales under his belt, the Chichester-born prodigy has anything to prove. His debut album, 2013’s Long Way Down, topped the charts in the UK, on the back of breakthrough smash, ‘Another Love’, and by late ’14 he was in the Top Ten again with a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Real Love’, recorded for John Lewis’ Christmas ad campaign. Alongside standout tracks such as ‘Grow Old With Me’, ‘Heal’ and ‘Can’t Pretend’, public affection for Tom and his quaveringly emotional way with a tune was only deepend.
Odell’s second long-player, Wrong Crowd, pretty much replicated its predecessor’s success, hitting No. 2 in ’16, with another biggie aboard in ‘Magnetised’. Still only 27, he quickly strikes back with his third, Jubilee Road – a career-defining record, which saw the multi-talented young artist take full control of his music, not only writing, singing, and vamping up his vibrant piano style on all ten songs, but also self-producing them, providing horn arrangements on three tracks, and layering up his trademark backing choir largely out of multi-tracks of his own voice.
Packed with grandstanding melodies and scintillating performances, it is, its auteur proudly declares, his bravest outing so far, and also his most honest and personal. It features ten songs each in their own way destined for classic status, rivalling Tom’s own heroes Elton John and Billy Joel (who now count amongst Odell’s most vocal fans) for sheer imagination and quality. Leading the charge, the terrifically catchy, gospel-soaked ‘If You Wanna Love Somebody’ may just be his highlight so far.
“I wrote the album in a house on a quiet terraced street in East London,” he explains. The lyrics are inspired by the lives of the friends I made whilst living there. I recorded most of the songs in the living room of the house, and if I listen back closely, I can still hear the sound of the old man’s television shows coming through the walls from next door, the kids from the house opposite playing football in the street below, and the sound of my girlfriend’s footsteps on the wooden floorboards above.”
The listener can’t help but be drawn into the affecting real-life dramas that Odell paints, from opener ‘Jubilee Road’’s scene-setting of the street’s colourful community, through the kids playing outside (‘Son Of An Only Child’) and the whiskey-shaking gamblers in the local betting shop (‘Queen Of Diamonds’), to the almost unbearably bittersweet celebration of ‘Wedding Day’.
If you search Google Maps or an A-Z for Jubilee Road’s titular thoroughfare, however, you won’t find it. To preserve his erstwhile neighbours’ privacy (and peace and quiet!), Odell has chosen to fictionalize the street name. As he balefully explains: “I don’t live there anymore – my life has changed somewhat”, so his short-term occupancy there was, for him, “a time, and a moment, all about the people there, and the experiences, and the feelings I had, more than the exact geography of where the road is”. The album is about capturing that moment, with all the thoughts it provoked about his own life thus far, and as a microcosm of trends he perceives in wider society right now.