Band reincarnations and solo side projects are nothing new. However the route that Charlie Simpson has weaved for himself over the last 10 years is far from the typical trodden trails that acts, and solo artists in particular, tend to take. From his first taste of the music industry as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in Busted, through to the emo-tinged, Kerrang!-favoured rock of Fightstar, Simpson has certainly not taken the usual path of a burgeoning musician, and this makes his latest venture as a singer songwriter a rather intriguing prospect.
While the label of singer songwriter may conjure up visions of minimalisation and stripped back, sole acoustic guitars, what Simpson has deliberately created is an album that is laced with full instrumentation and multi-tracked four-part harmonies, demonstrated most obviously in tracks such as ‘Down Down Down’ and recent single ‘Parachutes’, and most eerily in the likes of ‘Hold On’s introduction. In fact, besides 'Sundown' there isn’t a single soft acoustic strumming session, and the fact that every instrument, apart from the drums was played and recorded by Simpson shows off this solo effort that is very much his own work, yet one that allows the live incarnation of his songs to become fully-fleshed and supported with an array of other instruments.
At the heart of ‘Young Pilgrim’ lies a clear lineage of influences, mainly those of American acts like Crosby, Stills And Nash and Beach Boys, and fellow solo singers such as Pete Yorn and Jackson Browne. Yet while his own lyrics aren’t exactly mind-blowing or life changing – examples including “If people on earth could just get together/Maybe we could find a place for each other” from album opener 'Down Down Down', or the rabbit allusions on ‘Farmer & His Gun’ – they are certainly accessible and evoke hazy summer memories. In fact the entire release is bathed in a vintage calmness that supersedes any preconceived assumptions anyone might have of what to expect from Simpson, and as such 'Young Pilgrim' is sure to attract him a new fanbase, whilst simultaneously pacifying those Busted fans who ran crying from Fightstar’s first shows.
While many of the songs on 'Young Pilgrim' showcase Simpson at his best to date, it's a shame that the most superior tracks on the album are the first four, rendering a few that come towards the end, notably 'I Need A Friend Tonight', 'Farmer And His Gun' and 'If I Lose It', as a less promising prospect. Luckily album closer ‘Riverbanks’ redeems with its falsetto vocal flows, and has an almost slow-building, post rock effect of a cacophonic clash of orchestration, another nod towards his clearly broad taste in music. It's a perfect way to end the album as it offsets every stereotype and preconception of what most people would expect from an artist originally associated with faux-punk pop and post-hardcore.
While the overall effect of ‘Young Pilgrim’ is not one of astounding success, this is only, in a way, his debut album. Considering that most artists take a few releases to truly carve their own niche and discover the distinctiveness of their personal musical direction, ‘Young Pilgrim’ is certainly a promising debut that sees Simpson succeed in another musical genre and hints at great things to come in the future.