By Jessamyn Witthaus
Caustic Love is the third studio album from Nutini, landing just over five years since his last effort, Sunny Side Up. On first listening, it seems the Scottish acoustic crooner has undergone some kind of partial musical lobotomy. Suddenly, he has discovered samples, swagger and sassy trumpets. Gone are the Ska vibes present in his previous material, now blended into a more sophisticated soul sound. The opening track, Scream (Funk My Life Up), is a case in point, his signature vocals on form with just the right amount of grime and tongue-in-cheek humour.
No longer is he spurned by Jenny, asking reproachfully “don’t treat me like a baby”, and he is sketching out for the listener his new stage in life in typical blunt fashion with his lyrics. In Numpty, an almost cabaret-esque piano melody threads its way through a conversational and confiding song about “building a house so we can fall at the first brick”. However, not all of the albums new ideas and new directions seem to hit the stylised, urbane highs of tracks such as Let Me Down Easy and One Day. Fashion leaves me utterly perplexed; the heavy-handed objectification present in the lyrics is at odds with an artist normally so good at blending honesty and humour.
On the surface, the album’s generally fuller, richer, more sweeping sound compared to his previous work gives the impression of a cohesive final product. However, I come away feeling equal parts elated by some tracks and left cold by others. Better Man is turned into a swelling heartfelt ballad, with a full choir no less, despite its rather pedestrian nature. Nutini may have now proved himself to be an adept musical chameleon, but after careful reflection, I find myself harking after the genuine stripped-back vulnerability present in his earlier work that seems to be lost in Caustic Love.