Stephen Fretwell’s second album Man on the Roof was released back in 2007 and for a while, it seemed as if he was never going to return to the music career, which had seen him release two critically acclaimed albums, support Keane and Oasis and provide the theme tune to hit TV show Gavin and Stacey.
Parenthood, a return to study and divorce have filled the intervening fourteen years, but now the cult singer-songwriter has returned with Busy Guy, a stunning new album which is a reminder- if one were needed – of just what a talent Fretwell is.
The vocals and acoustic guitar were recorded in a matter of hours, lending an authenticity and raw immediacy to the album’s sound. Producer Dan Carey then added keyboards, electric guitar and subtle cello to build an evocative, almost ethereal impression, which tastefully blends acoustic and electronic elements and grows deeper with each listen.
The album is suffused with a quiet majesty. Remember and Oval are beautifully atmospheric tracks charting the breakdown of a relationship with a heart-breaking intensity. ‘The words on your lips get harsher/ and the cool of your back gets colder’ Fretwell sings, his striking vocal performance disguising the pain highlighted in his poetic lyrics. He is exploring big themes here, ranging from fatherhood to love and grief, but it is the keen eye for detail and the novelistic vignettes that draw the listener closer.
The mood remains stark on the mercurial The Long Water while the thumping menace of Almond depicts the lifecycle of a relationship in all its messy glory. Embankment is an opaque musing on the nature of love and time and a clear reminder that Fretwell has a great ear for melody and can produce a near-perfect pop song. His assured vocal – which resonates with emotive clarity throughout – is particularly highlighted on the more relaxed vibe of Copper.
Closing track Green has a compelling charm, the Spanish-inflected guitar and sprightly opening hook belie the lyrical gloom. The heartfelt refrain of ‘I should have written all this down…there’s no time now’ is repeated over warm cello, providing a perfect showcase for this album of small epiphanies that is both exorcising and enveloping.
The craft behind the songwriting shines through on Busy Guy, whose ironic title refers to Fretwell’s lack of musical output for the last decade. For an album so concerned with endings, it marks a hopeful new beginning and on the back of this magnificently moving record, let’s hope we don’t have to wait another fourteen years for his next release.