Album Review: Charlie Simpson – When We Were Lions

Originally published on my personal blog on January 4th 2011.

In music, “change” is sometimes synonymous with “bad”. When an artist changes their sound or, even further, their genre, there is immediately a backlash and the word “sell-out” is frequently used in this kind of situation. 

When Charlie Simpson put a stop to his teen-popstar career in 2005 it was because he hated everything that he had become. Charlie describes his time with Busted as “torture”, even though “there were good experiences”. When Charlie quit the pop band to concentrate on his new group Fightstar, many fans, mainly weeping teenage girls, criticised the man from Suffolk but, while some took the criticism too far, most simply sat back in amazement at how the kid with boyband-like good looks could suddenly turn into the lead man in a post-hardcore metal band.

Six years later, with three Fightstar albums under his belt, Charlie is again seeking change. His first solo EP, When We Were Lions, was released through Pledge Music, a fan-funded music project, just before Christmas, with news of a first solo album also now doing the rounds.

There had been rumours surrounding Simpson and a solo career and, as a Myspace page appeared with three brand new tracks earlier in 2010, it was became clear that Charlie wanted to go his own way and take control of his music once and for all.

And When We Were Lions is certainly different to what fans of Fightstar are used to. The five-track CD is very much an alternative rock EP but there is also an Indie feel to the music. Charlie’s experiences with Busted have clearly remained strong in the memory, as the title track includes a chorus that would not be out of place on a Now! compilation album. The line “Do you remember when we had it all to live for?” is a plain indication that the singer knows that his life was made up for him in the days of Busted but that wasn’t enough, as Charlie implies in a song which has a repetitive yet catchy beat: “now I know how emptiness feels”.

The EP is obviously an acoustic alternative rock album, although Charlie does have a band behind him, but there is definitely a pop-feel to the second track, If I Hide, Will You Come Looking? Just like in the first track Charlie doesn’t shy away from hitting the high notes, especially in the chorus of this hard-hitting, powerful song. Again the beat is repetitive and catchy, adding yet more of a pop-feel to the track, but the music and lyrics are a beautiful blend of indie and alternative music.

The third track, The Farmer And His Gun, moves closer towards the indie genre more than anything else. In fact it almost has a country music-like sound, reminiscent of Mumford and Sons. The song, though, is a lot more commanding than anything Radio 1-bound – the heavy base and foot-tapping beat make this track an irresistible tune, while the line “it’s better to lose yourself before you ever lose your pride” is an authoritative message from Simpson as he tries to make his career into something he wants it to be.

Charlie is clearly a talented performer and musician; he can play guitar, keyboard, piano, harmonica and drums as well as having a voice made for rock music. While this EP may be of a slower tempo than the music of both Fightstar and Busted, the use of a harmonica in the third track blends gloriously with Charlie’s acoustic guitar while, in the fourth track entitled Bullet, Simpson’s use of the piano is so natural that it almost blends into the background, something which is uncommon in a rock song.

The last track on the release, Lost, is a song that suggests that more is to come from this hugely talented artist. The lines “I’ve been lost for so long” and “I don’t need anyone anymore” imply that a single solo EP, or maybe even album, will not be the end of Charlie’s career away from Fightstar. Again the use of a keyboard works perfectly in a song that leaves fans begging for more.

Normally, leaving a hugely popular band to start a new project and go in a completely different direction would be a huge failure. Time and time again bands split up to go their own ways, only to find that without the band behind them they are nothing, leading to a reunion of massive magnitude. While there have been rumours of a reunion for Busted, with James Bourne and Matt Willis both expressing a sincere interest, Charlie doesn’t want any part of it:

“I want to make it unequivocally clear that I have no interest what-so-ever in re-joining Busted and I never will”.

Charlie splitting from Busted worked because he’s now doing what he wants to do, playing the music which he not only likes to play, but listen to as well. When We Were Lions is a pure, genuine album from the 25-year-old in an honest admission that Busted was a mistake. Busted are gone, but, for Charlie Simpson, it is just the beginning. And I, for one, cannot wait to see what is going to happen next.

Charlie Simpson – When We Were Lions

Genre: Indie/Pop/Rock/Folk
Country: UK

Tracklist

  1. When We Were Lions
  2. If I Hide, Will You Come Looking?
  3. The Farmer And His Gun
  4. Bullet
  5. Lost
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