Charlie Fink, best known for his work as Noah and the Whale’s (RIP) frontman, returns after a lengthy hiatus to grace us with his first solo album. But hold your horses fanboys and girls, this isn’t quite the return to form we were all hoping for.
There are a few things a listener should know before getting into the album:
First, this album was written and performed as a theater piece. On the theater’s website the album isn’t even mentioned, just the show, which is described as “a live gig and a modern folk tale.”
Second, being a theater piece, this album is narrative. Unfortunately, being only an album, you can’t see what’s going on onstage or if there is any dialogue, so the basic narrative of the album gets pretty confusing. Over the course of the album, narrators and locations change, often with only a lyric or two to signal that change.
Now the real question, is it any good?
Well, yes and no. The first five songs are great, at least one of them being excellent and definitely worth a listen, even for the casually interested. They showcase what Charlie does best; write evocative lyrics that tell a more fleshed-out story than you thought could fit in a 3 minute song, over a simple and beautiful tune. The only gripe I have with the first half of the album is that none of the instrumentals really stuck with me. They’re pretty standard folk-pop fare, only rarely bordering on the cringey (the “oohs” on I Was Born to Be a Cowboy) but it works because the songwriting is so great.
But I wish it was that good throughout. The second half of the album is where most of its problems lie. For starters, the story sort of falls apart. There are songs where the narrator suddenly shifts and it’s hard to tell what is happening to whom. In addition to this, the musical issues hinted at on the first half are realized here. None of the instrumentals really did anything for me, and the songs find themselves directionless. Once the guidance of the lyrics is gone, they meander through their 2 and 3 minute runtimes and end, without providing any sort of satisfying conclusion for the listener.
Ultimately I’m left scratching my head about this one. The songs that are good on here are good. The stories they tell are often portraits of love and dreams, realized as often as not. But the songs that aren’t are not just forgettable, but hurt the overall flow and concept of the album. The narrative structure of the album makes it less relatable than previous material, and at the end of the day, hurts the album more than it helps it.
But it’s not as bad as it could be. And that is in large part due to Mr. Fink’s talent as a songwriter. He’s proven himself capable of writing not only good songs, but songs that are truly great. But this greatness usually happens when collaborating with other musicians. His one-off single, My Heartbeat Lost Its Rhythm, released in 2015, was simply electrifying. There are occasional flashes of that brilliance on Cover My Tracks. But lightning only truly strikes once on this album, with the opener, Firecracker.
All in all, if we’re going to see another classic from Charlie, it’s going to be him either making an album straight—no theaters being involved—or it’s going to be by collaborating with other musicians who bring out his best qualities. Unfortunately that didn’t happen on this album. But what this album did do was solidify my belief that Mr. Fink is one of our generation’s best songwriters. Here’s hoping he gets to make a classic album that is totally and undeniably his.
My Heartbeat Lost Its Rhythm ft. Sozo & Lux.
Full disclosure: this song isn’t on the album. But I couldn’t mention it and not include it down here. It’s one of the best songs he’s ever written and has somehow managed to fly under the radar for two years now.
The rhythm and melody are infectiously and utterly danceable, even for someone like me, who, you know, doesn’t really like to dance. Its cool and saccharine lyrics paint a picture of love and loss every teen can relate to, but are delivered with a wry smile.