Ben Howard is an incredibly talented guitarist with an equally splendid voice, making him one of the most popular singer-songwriters of past three years. His debut album, Every Kingdom, stunned singer-songwriter audiences back in 2011, charting internationally and bagging Ben two BRIT awards in 2013 for British Breakthrough Act and British Solo Male Artist. If you haven’t heard of him, you are certain to be one of the few – it goes without saying that the pressure on Ben Howard for his new album, I Forget Where We Were, is unquestionable. However, there has been no sign of the typical music industry behaviour to rush out a second album after a successful debut (cough, One Direction). This decision, in my opinion, was definitely for the best. When listening to the new album you can hear the profound thought and feel the intense care that Ben has given to it over the past three years of hard work.
Fortunately, for the masses of waiting listeners, Ben and his band performed the new album in full live in the Maida Vale Studios for Radio 1 four weeks prior to its release. This thrilling opportunity stunned the small but dedicated live audience and received a hugely positive reception across the nation. As a strong supporter from the beginning of Ben Howard’s releases, my expectations for his second album were scraping at the ceiling and unsurprisingly, I Forget Where We Were exceeds them dramatically.
Small Things opens the album steadily, gradually introducing the listener to the new style before taking off dramatically and plunging into a state of careful chaos. It then lingers delicately before flowing into Rivers In Your Mouth. Despite having a more mature and thoughtful style, these tracks maintain the uplifted tone that makes Ben Howard so lovable and it becomes near impossible to avoid grinning as the drum beat opening of Rivers Into Your Mouth strikes up. However, this track also opens our eyes to the more destructive themes that Ben explores in his new album as he sings, “Sick and tired, oh I beg for the world to change”. His desperate tone and fast-paced electric guitar creates a threatening ambience, but still, Ben’s soft vocals welcome his audience to immerse themselves in the track.
The title track, I Forget Where We Were, takes the listener on an expedition through the thoughts of Ben Howard, bringing back that near personal relationship he can create with listeners. When listening, I find it so easy to pretend that Ben is communicating only with me, yet this is part of the personal bubble he builds with every listener. The sincere choruses emphasise poetic lyrics, including “For you, I have so many words,” which greatly contrasts the blunt “My, my, my, my, my, give me love,” that Ed Sheeran preaches. This displays, once more, that Ben Howard’s talent overshadows that of Sheeran’s. To top it off, Ben’s choruses transpose smoothly into verses that are flooded with an assortment of flattering instruments.
Progressing through the album, In Dreams takes on a foreign sound with a heavy focus on drumbeats rather than the delicate acoustic guitar we are so used to. The vocal melody channels a ceremonial quality, branching out from the stereotypical ‘Ben Howard’ sound with interesting experimentation. A personal favourite, Time Is Dancing, provides light relief from the previous melancholic feel and I think this was a vital interlude before returning to the depth of emotion as seen in the attractive follow-up track, Evergreen.
The distinctive contrast between The End Of The Affair and Conrad is remarkably impressive. The tracks not only differ in pace, they also differ in instrumentation, tone, and feel, conveying Ben’s range as a musician. Finally, rounding off the album, All Is Now Harmed leaves the audience mesmerised as Howard sings “I was born alive,” to the tone of delicate, electric guitar and soothing backing vocals.
The true strength of the album is the ability to please the long-term fans of Ben Howard with the enriching acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, he branches out to deeper-thinkers and fans with his use of electric guitar and the fuller band sound, whose contributions compliment Ben’s astonishing guitar playing. Most notably, the bassline of Rivers Into Your Mouth lifts the standard of the song from an Every Kingdom song to a track from I Forget Where We Were due to its complexity, yet ability to fit in comfortably alongside the other instruments. The creative variety of instruments works wonderfully. Each one acts as dissimilar, yet vital parts of a machine, all functioning together in order to create utter excellence.
Despite the wait, the final product of I Forget Where We Were delivers.