If All Else Fails, the new album from Stuart Todd Whitworth, doesn’t start off with searing guitar solos, eruptive drums nor electrifying theatrics of any kind. Instead, we find its opening track “One More Chance” riddled with a brittle acoustic guitar harmony and a lush lead vocal from Whitworth that hints only slightly of the monolithic melodicism awaiting us in the next fifteen songs.
“Where You Are,” the next track we come into contact with, vaults into inspirational rock n’ roll riffage with a fiercely agile arrangement of instrumentation perhaps even more evocative than our singer’s own words are, but as sensuously charming as this song is, it’s followed by just as memorable a composition in the churning rock ballad “She Won’t Be Mine,” and later, the rambunctious dance number “Prologue of a New Year.” If All Else Fails doesn’t ask a heck of a lot out of us in exchange for more of those unforgettable pop/rock thrills and chills than most will be able to handle, and while I was expecting a lot out of its tracklist, I can’t say that I anticipated just how much of a tour de force it is when enjoyed in a single sitting.
Whitworth dives into Beatles-esque grooves with “Happy” and gentle alternative rock balladry in “Higher” before getting super experimental with the vivacious pop epic “How to Heal,” which I would go as far as to describe as his most progressively-structured composition to date. A brief interlude in “Opus 4” stands between “How to Heal” and the acrylic textures that comprise “Gone Away,” but despite the gap between the two tracks, I think they play off of the same aesthetical formula rather brilliantly. Both of these songs could be star singles for If All Else Fails, but in all honesty, the same could probably said for “CJ Sleeps,” one of the heavier rock tunes in the whole of the LP. “CJ Sleeps” reminds me a lot of the punkier alt-rockers that made it big in the late 1990’s but failed to make the transition into 21st century relevance – mostly because of a disinterest in Seattle-influenced melodies – and yet there’s nothing about its content that translates as throwback-ish in the least. None of the preceding songs are quite as exotically elegant as “Fugue No. 2 in C Minor” or “Fugue No. 3 in C Minor” are, but in the context of Whitworth’s nonconformist attitude here, they fit into the grander scheme of things just as well as any of the other tracks do.
We run into another alternative romper in “Rachel Speaks” before Stuart Todd Whitworth goes straight emotional for “Not Just Me” and its spiritual sequel, “Just Me,” which are undeniably two of the more transcendent ballads I’ve heard in the last month of reviewing new music. If All Else Fails crosses the finish line on the back of its title track, and though this song clocks in at a modest four minutes in total running time, I think it feels like one of the more profoundly dramatic compositions on the album.
The bottom line here? For all of the buzz this record is getting, I can honestly say that it’s a homerun for its composer, and more importantly, fans of pop/rock everywhere this year.
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