Release date: 14 March 2016.
Some people can’t sit still. Just as we were getting a grip on him as frontman of jangly indie outfit The Foxes – that’s ‘The’ Foxes band, hence the plural, not the Michelin-lipped honking car park who sings under a collective noun (what’s her car called, ‘Convoy’?) – Nigel Thomas upped and disappeared into the theatre for a spell.
Emerging from this thespian hiatus, it seems the boards have crept their way into his chords, lending a more dramatic soundscape to his repertoire.
While infectious single Fever treads – nay, stomps – a familiar ground that’s all angular vocals and truncated cabaret favoured by Maximo Park and other ilk from The Foxes’ formative years, its incongruous inclusion just serves to wrongfoot us.
With prologue as epilogue, what follows is a journey that similarly makes a focus of its influences with smokier depths of field. The Beatles-tinged Anne gargles McCartney’s saccharine syrup with some minty-freshness that conjures the Mr Soft song (in the sky with Softmints?); its mirror image, Que Sera, is a twinkling childhood dream that perhaps gets too snug in its slumber – an elegiac lullaby of interweaving vocals that’s an elongated outro away from a singalong classic. The sparse mid-album segue of Drift does just that, but its lethargy feeds with restless urgency into the title track’s spiralling wanderlust, a dusty country-funk paean with a cleverly rambling bassline reflecting its titular nomad – a forgotten Oasis b-side that got abducted on Route 66. As if to punctuate the Gallagher strand, following track Destiny does Lennon’s stripped-back insouciance in far subtler tones than Our Kid.
The two-tone drama of Ghost Hunter couples Thomas’s obvious mod leanings with something more playful, like The Specials’ Ghost Town populated by rambunctious (Phil) spectres. Within this rural conurbation there are feral connotations – porous walls of sound through which beastly reggae-plagued apparitions ethereally transgress.
The real drama with Travelling Man, however, is its creative fusion: Dancing is a mystic, harp-led serenade to an undiscovered Shakespeare play that casts Thomas as the lovelorn fool of the forest, adrift in Pink Floyd’s dream of a midwinter’s night; and exiled ballad 5476 Miles, a trans-Atlantic sea breeze that reflects the oceanic divide of its subject matter by plonking Chilli Peppers and Badly Drawn Boy on a desert island in the middle, where they discover it’s not such a long way for either.
Travelling Man shows Nigel Thomas himself has come a long way with a masterfully crafted collection of songs that give performance to perseverance – a solo journey that comes full circle when there’s no other role to play but yourself.
He might have ditched his theatrical tights, but Thomas here demonstrates with unerring grace there are other ways to break a leg.
CD and vinyl available from: http://nigelsongs.com/store
Digital download via iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/travelling-man/id1078458895
*Nigel Thomas plays a special album launch show at Camden Barfly on Saturday 12 March 2016.
For tickets visit: http://bit.ly/1QtSp86