Rag’n’Bone Man Human Columbia / Sony Music Entertainment
According to the internet, a rag-and-bone man is defined as: ‘someone who collects unwanted household items and sells them to merchants’. This rather gruelling and humble occupation suggests an existence where manoeuvring is essential to survival. In the recent life of Rag’n’Bone Man, no such movement has been necessary. Annually, the industry picks someone to be fucking massive – the “chosen one”. The already confirmed winner of the The Critics’ Choice Award at this year’s Brit awards, Rag’n’Bone Man follows in the footsteps of a veritable who’s who of British musical mediocrity (Jack Garratt, Tom Odell, James Bay, Sam Smith). Pooling every available resource, said performer is thrust on everyone with relentless ferocity across every available medium. Success ensues. This is Rag’n’Bone Man’s year, and you’re powerless to stop him.
Following three independently-released EPs that didn’t really hint at the adulation that was to follow, the speed of Rag’n’Bone Man’s ascendance since releasing last summer’s chart-topping single Human must be utterly dizzying for him, but they want us to think that he’s keeping it real. The songs on this album of the same name go in hard on the struggle, and on the pain. Bitter End tells of years of toil: “Too many years of battle scars/ And now we’re broken/ And all the words you said/ Been hanging over my head for time/ And all of the lines we’ve crossed/ They’ve finally bust us open/ As a thousand tiny paper cuts of life.” The theme is repeated on the painful lament of Odetta: “You’re always searching for destruction/ Now you bare the scars of a path in which you chose/ It takes a brave and a stronger kind of woman/ To follow where such a broken man can go.”
Marketed as an everyday bloke with oh so much soul (he got the word tattooed across his knuckles to emphasise the point), the Bone Man can clearly pen a big chorus, and his ability to project these lyrics with power is not up for question. Over 12 tracks (a staggering 19 on the deluxe edition) that borrow exclusively from sanitised retro-soul tropes, Human’s attempt to make every last lyrical and musical drop sound like the most profound, emotionally-affirming thing you’ve ever heard is utterly draining. A vocal talent – no doubt – but the whole affair is left feeling inauthentic by the very fact the only thing this album shoots for is all-encompassing authenticity, over and over and over again. I don’t buy it. A one note soul record for those bereft of soul.