It is certainly a good time to be alive for singer-songwriter Tom Walker. With last summer seeing his tracks become the soundtrack to ITV2’s stalwart Love Island, and fresh off winning Best British Breakthrough at this year’s BRIT Awards, his hotly anticipated debut album has finally dropped.
He is a naturally emotive performer, and pours this into his material. Latest single ‘Angels’ is a strong opener, kicking things off with impressive production and lyrics pondering his own soul. Arguably his biggest hit so far, ‘Leave a Light On’ cranks the emotion up a notch further, straddling the topic of a friend suffering from substance abuse in such a way that the track becomes a much more universal friendship anthem. ‘Not Giving In’ follows a similar pattern and features some of Walker’s best vocals.
His talent comes into its own when armed simply with a guitar and gritty vocals. Given this, it is no surprise that What a Time to Be Alive includes perhaps his two most popular tracks with long-term fans. ‘Blessings’ and ‘Just You and I’ were released back in 2017, and while they are two of the best tracks in his wheelhouse, they feel tired on this record. No doubt their inclusion is to guarantee success given their popularity last summer, but with this being a debut released almost two years since they were first released, the album is craving a bit more fresh material.
On offer are two new slow numbers to further soundtrack our breakups and low moments a là Love Island. However, ‘Fade Away’ lives up to its name, with it being a totally forgettable track that does not any real purpose on the album. ‘The Show’ comes with an air of old-school Ed Sheeran, with Walker singing about not wanting to waste another minute queuing for a club and making the most of his time. However, the track is lacking the gritty personality that his 2017 Blessings EP oozed.
Within the middle section of the album, he struggles to find his groove. ‘Now You’re Gone’, an R&B-tinged duet with Zara Larsson, promises some kind of pay-off in the form of a punchy chorus and anthemic drums. Sadly, this is not delivered, each time building up to some very questionable falsetto from Walker and repetitive lyrics from the two. ‘My Way’ is a punchy track that sounds like it has been borrowed from an Imagine Dragons album, lacking a heck of originality and riffing on a very unoriginal sentiment. ‘Dominoes’ is severely one-note and is only saved by the vocal ability on display, and it feels like by the end of the album, Walker has run out of ideas.
While What A Time To Be Alive has some highlights, it is ultimately a formulaic response to Walker’s chart success. The guy has talent, and his vocal talent lifts even the low points of the album to some degree. However, Walker should stick to his roots and take his own advice: do it your own way, not the chart’s way.