By Courtney E. Smith
All the best soul songs are about love: from falling in it to losing it and everything in between. And it’s that Motown sound in particular that John Newman takes inspiration from on his debut album, Tribute. When the music drops out on the first chorus of the single “Love Me Again,” you know what you’re in for.
Recorded on vintage equipment using analog gear where possible and backed with string and vocal arrangements inspired by Phil Spector’s work with Motown, the album is a real throwback that’s full of the musical spectacle we associate with the Detroit sound.
“The wall of sound, I love it,” Newman smiles when he confirms the influence. “I love the epicness. I love film music, I love Bond themes and that whole cinematic thing. And I needed to get that.”
It’s really underselling Newman to call him a male Amy Winehouse or a lyrical heartbreaker like Adele, although there is a case to be made for both. For every gospel choir or massive strange arrangement, he incorporates electronic elements that separates him from those divas, and gives things a bit of ’90s house music feel. It’s the bits and pieces of another world he has inhabited in his creative partnership with electronic music group, Rudimental.
It’s also that he’s more willing to let his hip-hop influences—that would follow the line of evolution from soul music—slip through in his production choices. But it’s almost as if he’s doing it backwards from the way you’d expect in a Drake track, like soul is the upbeat and hip hop is the downbeat.