Reviewed by Zoe
4.The City Falls
8.Better Keep Today
“Neon” from London based Rock/Indie solo acoustic artist Scott Dean is a little gem of an album that definitely warrants a second and third listen.
Short and sweet, with two of the songs being short instrumental offering, at first visit, “Neon” is easy on the ear (although please don’t worry, I am not implying this is “Easy Listening”).
Nothing too edgy or niche, the overall sound and tone of the album will appeal to a broad range of listeners and is instantly likeable – as a musician Dean is clearly very accomplished – beautiful, delicate acoustic guitar, smooth and polished like some lovely musical pebble, and Dean’s vocals are the right blend of melodic with just a touch of huskiness. I was put in mind of Grant Nicholas or, dare I say it, a less grating Daniel Powter.
However, if you dig a little deeper you’ll discover that lyrically there is a thoughtfulness but also some grit, and darker elements.
The songs, for the most part, have definite narratives and they are more pained, more pensive than the largely major chord progressions would imply – somehow managing to be both dark and simultaneously elevating, and at times cinematic.
“The City Falls”, an homage to the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises”, is a great example of how Dean successfully manages to set a scene with his winning combination of moody, atmospheric sounds teamed with a strong storytelling vocal line.
Across the album, Dean deals with some rather hefty themes like betrayal and addiction (some touched a personal note with me – which I believe is always the mark of a good lyricist) as well as the perennial songwriter’s favourites of love and pain.
It’s clear to hear that mixing and producing this album has been a labour of love, it’s well thought out and measured; yet you sense fun was had in the making (I had a little giggle at the fleeting “guest appearance” from Craig David at the start of “Radio” – I do hope that was the intention!). Particular highlights for me are the delicate touch of the backing vocals on “The City Falls” and the driving guitar parts on “Radio” which has a real forward momentum.
The album has a couple of musical interludes – firstly the appropriately named “Intro” which had a deliciously growling bass line that personally I was little disappointed was not developed further in the album (maybe a request for the next release Scott?). It reminded me a lot of the start of “This Garden” by The Levellers, with a hint of jungle (geographical jungle – not “Massive”). The second is a bluesy little offering, “The Puzzle”. Definitely showing my age now, but it felt like the natural division between side A and side B where you would turn your cassette over (ask your Mum kids), a musical intermission that sounds almost experimental but also a chance for Dean to showcase his not inconsiderable skills.
There are a couple of stand-out tracks on Neon for me personally, the opening guitar of “Better Keep Today” honestly gave me goose bumps, haunting and atmospheric and well, just lovely. “Neon” itself is also a bit of an ear worm, the lyrics are deliciously dark (“lock me up now, give me the blue pill”) and the way the song builds works so well. Just incredibly well thought out.
Style wise, I heard smatterings of Dave Grohl’s more acoustic offerings, a heavy dose of Feeder melody wise (in particular “Lucky Seven”), the gentleness and subtlety vocally of Radiohead and some of the quirky sound injections of Kula Shaker – certainly a late 90s influence permeates.
Delicately striated, there is layer upon layer to each song; real depth, but despite that you can just tell that they would all work just as well completely stripped back in a one man and his guitar setting, which to me is always the real test of a good song, that it still works without the bells and whistles – the vocal and guitar are the real stars of this show. Listen to the way the less is more of “Better Keep Today” stands shoulder to shoulder with the more involved production on say, “Neon” or “Convince Me”.
In short this is a cracking collection, lovers of real quality song-writing and the clarity and depth of acoustic guitar (with all the trimmings of course) should definitely be adding “Neon” to their music libraries. And myself, I will be looking out for the next live gig to test my “just as good naked” theory….