To beat Passenger records with the allure of All The Little Lights or Whispers will be difficult, to say the least. Even if these two contained many sins that truly chipped away at their overall ratings. And indeed, this is the mighty rocky mountain that this particular artist currently tries to vanquish.
I have been less than amused with the 2016 record Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea. Even if this one contains pretty sturdy tracks like Anywhere with its funky beat. So, hey, you can’t get it right every time. Superman ain’t in it.
But here we got Runaway. The one buzzing about the countryside like Speedy Gonzales.
Passenger present a very strong concept album this time. Based on a road trip Mike Rosenberg and his band of merry warriors undertook, with a video pretty much at every location. In other words, Passenger careened about the neatest spots of the US of A in search of the right tune. And truly, in (almost) all of them clips Mike Rosenberg gets himself in a running fit. With – as the lore goes – every song dedicated to a new spot.
Which explains the excellent Forrest Gump analogy on the album cover that got on my good side straight away.
Judging by the remarks I read, it appears it was a journey of the heart for Rosenberg, who is half American. You’ll find a sort of homesick wistfulness on Runaway, like in some of them diaries you unearth in somebody’s attic. Only that the ghosts are missing. And sometimes the record delivers faint echoes of old concoctions like Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection or Uncle Tupelo’s highway themes.
This project very much reminds me of the soul-searching trip Niedecken (BAP) did a few years ago. To find his inner self in the heartland, apparently. With astonishingly deep results. And very similar to this record.
To top it and true to the theme, you’ll find a Passenger gang in there much inclined towards Country and alt-Country sounds. Banjo, mariachi trumpets and all that jazz included. Sometimes I wonder why they did not get us a whiff of motorcycles and easy riders. That would have lent an old, hackneyed and musty stereotype a fresh coat of paint.
So all of them ingredients must have whelped good tracks. Right?
Hell or High Water already sets the tone with a fondue laden song about the elusiveness of human relations. A fitting start, delicious with the underlying banjo in the background.
That they program a filler track straight after that one will forever remain a mystery to me. With a bland song structure that is so boringly mainstream, it drives me to tears. Great beginnings, ending in a car wreck already after a mile or so, right in the middle of the road.
That said, Passenger usually varies his tune better than most. But Runaway often does not move beyond the abilities of Ana and the Black Mamba and the likes. Which, all things considered, is already better than most.
But you’ll get astonishing jewels, too.
Eminem already rapped about Detroit without end, so why should Passenger not put in his grain of salt. Albeit that Ghost Town is a sad, moving folk tune that he brings to the forefront. None of the scathing anger that some acid-crazed rappers often like to scream into the world. Full of vindictive, psychopaths and crack whores, right down 8 Mile. In contrast, here you’ll finally find a track that reminds me of the pointed thoughtfulness of Whispers. A favorite.
Truly the cliché imbibed start of Runaway – the title track – gave me a sinking feeling. But then, the kinda oldish alt-Country flavor of the track really got the better of me. Not to forget the pretty snappy arrangement to a simple track like that.
But as always, Passenger’s folk sounds very much link to the story and lyrics. And Runaway is no different. And this is typical of many – if not all – Folk and Folk Rock outfits.
So, here’s to an album that put a smile on my face.
Runaway may not be as pointedly juicy than All the Little Lights or Whispers, but nothing takes away the sweet pull of this album. Same as the road trip it depicts, the record shows an astonishing flow from one track to another. Which is remarkable, as the theme itself does not tell a story. It is the trip that nurtures the power of the record.
Mixing good ‘ol Passenger staple with smooth country sounds, coupled with a powerful fil rouge for sure is THE success factor for this record. A quiet piece, full of reflection, and a slightly overcooked sugar-sweet nostalgia that sometimes overstays its welcome. Yet again, Runaway is an authentic, honest and downright enjoyable album full of hooks that really got on my good side.
You should give it a try, too.
[Editor’s note: The album successfully made it onto the 2018 Top 10 Records list. Congrats!]