Released 23rd November 2018
1) Too Many Cars
2) Doin’ The Time
3) Gold Dust
4) She’s All Kooky
6) Looking For The World
7) A Love That’s True
8) The Haunting Of Hetty Biggs
10) This Green & Unpleasant Land
11) A Place In My Game
12) Those Shoes
13) Rosie’s Brother
14) Queen Of Hearts
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For those of you who can remember the late ‘80s, the name Michael Armstrong might be familiar to you; born in 1973, at the age of 15 he came second in a songwriting competition run by BBC’s Pebble Mill At One (losing out only to a certain Gary Barlow, who was 16 at the time). In the years that followed Armstrong continued to write songs, and by the time he was 18 had formed his own band and was playing gigs up and down the country.
And whilst ‘#LookingForTheWorld’ is only Armstrong’s second album (due to essentially leaving music behind aged 23, only for a coincidental series of events to bring about his return in 2011), it proves that even if you’re not already familiar with his name then you probably should be- particularly if you are a fan of pristine, melodic pop music, with this album showing that that is exactly what Armstrong does best.
As a single body of work ‘#LookingForTheWorld’ flows nicely, piecing together like a concept album but not weighed down by the often off-putting notion (unless you are a prog rock fan) of a storyline or recurring character throughout.
But even though ‘#LookingForTheWorld’ as a whole is clearly a well-rounded and accomplished release, it is when we dig deeper into the tracks- essentially venture further in than one listen- that we find the real rewards.
‘There’s too many cars on the road/all is still where once it flowed/then deserted now bestowed/there’s too many cars on the road’. Lyrically this is how the album begins- not exactly a cheery, uplifting start, eh?
This does, however, set the scene for the fact that, amongst the Beach Boys and Eagles-esque harmonies, within the chiming melodies obviously inspired by the likes of Steely Dan and Supertramp that this album is literally dripping with, there are darker undertones and more than one layer to a lot of these songs.
Though tracks like the opener and ‘Periscope’ showcase Armstrong’s solemn, more thoughtful side, he is also obviously not a one trick pony; the playfulness of ‘She’s All Kooky’ (my personal favourite), the light-as-a-feather touch of ‘A Love That’s True’, and the freshness that positively bursts out of ‘Doin’ The Time’ all balance out the serious, thought-provoking messages within some of the other tracks.
Consider also the irony of the inclusion of a ‘#’ in the album’s title. The hashtag only became a part of ‘language’ as we know it fairly recently, but when the music that makes up the album reflects happily on ‘a golden era’ and times gone by, and clearly has misgivings about aspects of the modern world. The mere titles of some of the songs- ‘Too Many Cars’, ‘This Green and Unpleasant Land’ for example- reflect these themes instantly.
Also demanding the listener’s attention is Armstrong’s vocal talent- his voice has unexpectedly charming tones of Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Richie Furay and Paul McCartney, and holds the tracks together confidently and without fault.
So essentially- if you’re a fan of laid back, harmony-soaked, unashamedly retro pop, listen to ‘#LookingForTheWorld’.
It may just prove to be the album you didn’t realise you needed to hear.
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For more information on Michael Armstrong you can follow him on social media, or visit michaelarmstrongmusic.co.uk