New kings of Pop: Tom Odell
He’s just a boy with a piano, but young prodigy Tom Odell has touched the heart strings of 80-million listeners with his smash hit « Another Love ». Indeed his first album has already earned him glowing comparisons with monuments of british pop.
In contrast to rock stars of their parents’ generation, Hozier, Tom Odell, James Bay, George Ezra, Benjamin Clementine and Jake Bugg represent a different face of British pop, one that’s less wild and rather more saccharine. For Numéro Homme, this new wave of singer-songwriters posed in the studio of fabled photographer David Bailey, the man who immortalized Mick Jagger and all the other London legends of the Swinging 60s.
Odell has been getting a full night’s kip since he started writing songs, “because before that I wasn’t happy not doing it.” It’s with this kind of spin that the winsome young blond, who turns 25 this November, justifies his place among the new wave of singers who are currently enrapturing Britain’s youth. His first album, 2013’s Long Way Down, had a very comfortable ride on the BBC, and was featured by that essential meteorologist of Britain’s musical climate, Jools Holland.
Everything about Odell − his powerful voice with its impressive tessitura, his flights of piano that are alternately brisk and passionate, his delicate melodies that touch your heart or set it alight − seems like the perfect conjunction between sentimentality and a desire to resonate with the aspirations of his time. While comparisons with weighty monuments such as Elton John or David Bowie might have been intimidating for him, he makes light of it all. “I just want to enjoy myself. I’ve no ambition to dominate the world with my music, nor do I claim to come anywhere near these geniuses. I’d just like to carry on for as long as possible, and leave my own little mark, so that people will listen to my songs in 20 years’ time and say that this lad wasn’t so bad.”
He must have kept a cool head, even if legend has it that with the money he received on signing his contract he bought a vintage Mini Cooper rather than a life-insurance policy. He owes the contract in question to a good fairy, who fluttered down one night to the lacklustre bar were he was playing his songs at the piano, as he’d done since the age of 16. The good fairy was Lily Allen, who immediately told her manager about this eloquent piano man who already had an impressive repertoire under his belt. “Writing songs has never been difficult for me. It’s always come naturally. The hard thing was getting them heard.”
Like most young Britons old enough to hold an instrument, he played in a schoolmates’ band, but never came to terms with their annoying egalitarian rules. “A group is a collection of people who rarely think the same thing but who take hours to tune up. Since I write in the first person, and compose my own music, I didn’t really need the others. In any case, as both a listener and a practitioner, music is mostly a solitary activity for me.” Odell is current working on his second album, for which, he says proudly, he’s taken the risks that were perhaps lacking on the overly smooth Long Way Down. He cites Randy Newman − whose I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today he already covered − as an influence on this one. Behind the modest, winsome façade, there’s clearly huge ambition.
Check out the full story in the September issue of Numéro, now in stands and available in our iPad app.
By Christophe Conte