Just one glance at Passenger’s song titles (“Girl I Once Knew,” “Walk in the Rain,” “Table for One”) and it should come as no surprise that the Brighton, U.K. quintet’s debut, Wicked Man’s Rest, frequently comes off as a little precious, its attempts at poignancy and profoundness often too obvious. All that’s missing from the track “Four Horses” is a gospel choir, while “For You” is the kind of song that would make even the most romantically gushy teenage girl want to punch chief songwriter and vocalist Mike Rosenberg. His lyrics are often trite, with recycled slogans like “You can only have the sunshine after the rain” littered throughout, but he’s also unapologetic and refreshingly candid. In other words, Rosenberg’s got the balls to admit that he doesn’t have any. The strength of the songwriting helps, of course: The album’s most shameless love song, the jangly “You’re on My Mind,” is also its best, with self-pitied lyrics tempered by a powerful, irresistible hook. The arrangements are fine-tuned and detail-oriented, with tinkling pianos and glocks and sampled telephone rings and other electronic noodling abound. None of this ornamentation, however, takes away from Rosenberg’s lyrics and plaintive vocals, which remain front-and-center. After opening with the profoundly sad title song, which presents a litany of nefarious things, Wicked Man’s Rest continues with the more upbeat “Night Vision Binoculars,” the instantly memorable guitar hook and cheerier disposition of which mask a persistent, underlying sadness: “We touched hands by the coffee machine the other day/Well, I know you’ve forgotten already/But I’m gonna take that moment to the grave.” And it’s not long before the song reveals itself to be a somewhat creepy stalker jam, as Rosenberg confesses: “I’m the boy that’s calling your house/I’m the boy that’s freaking you out/With my thermal flask of tea/Up there in your neighbor’s tree.” Passenger will likely get lost in the shuffle of similar sensitive-rock bands like Starsailor, Snow Patrol and Keane, but they deserve to get noticed—if only so that Rosenberg can stop hiding out in trees and finally get laid.
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