The former frontman of The Temperance Movement returns after a tumultuous period in his life with a solo album that has been decades in the making. Musical differences and personal issues saw the gravelly-throated singer leave not only The Temperance Movement in 2020, but also last year he parted ways with The Byson Family, the band he left to form and concentrate on.
But following a series of acoustic shows and a recent EP release, Philip has exorcised whatever demons he was carrying and is back stronger than ever with his debut long player.
Seeking redemption and filled with retrospection ‘City Lights’ is a journey of a storyteller who explores new territories while tipping his worn and tattered hat towards his past glories throughout its 12-track length. There’s a self-assured confidence and a sense of rejuvenation to leading track and first single ‘Magical West’ that sees Philip shed the heavy rock and americana leanings of his previous bands and embrace a more commercial and eclectic direction. Upbeat and euphoric in equal measures, it has a Springsteen style power and delivery with a rousing chorus that will excite the listener and induce goosebumps as well as repeated plays.
‘City Lights’ is an album filled with unexpected directions that take you on a definite journey. The liberating ‘Hasta Luego’ is a tale of eloping to Mexico, and you are with him on the road as he invites you to “get away through LA and San Diego”. Sound wise, with urgent beats and stabs of keys it builds like Hothouse Flowers to a rousing chorus worthy of Butch Walker.
The mellower, more soulful moments such as ‘Revelation’ and ‘Break The Curse’ nod their heads to Van Morrison with gospel-tinged backing vocals, brass and stabs of piano to accompany the stunning vocal delivery.
The needle drops on side two for the funky title track with a blast of horns, crisp drum beats and gospel harmonies, coming on like an outtake from The Black Crowes sophomore long player meets Paolo Nutini, and that ain’t a bad place to be. But if there is any one song that would be a showcase for Phil’s vocal prowess on this album, I would probably go for the celebration that is ‘Soul Fire’. The performance here exudes confidence, power and depth and just seems to flow perfectly. A killer guitar solo adds some fire. It’s worth noting that considering he plays most of the instruments and self-produced this album, it has a very ‘live in the studio’, full band sound.
Elsewhere, ‘Silent Symphony’ mixes up americana and soul with sweeping strings and gospel backing to create a heart-wrenching, cinematic soundscape. And that is something that continues on the honest and confessional ‘Sober Boy’.
He may have left TTM to get away from the screamers, but closer ‘Gut City Blues’ leaves us with a reminder of his past. Killer riffs and even more killer vocals give us a whiff of AC/DC meets Ike & Tina goodness, plus the addition of founding TTM guitarist Luke Potashnick, who turns of to lay down a tasty solo. A glorious rocker that is sure to be a live favourite when he hits the road later this year.
While I was saddened when he left TTM and The Byson Family, Philip Seth Campbell has risen like a phoenix from the flames and delivered an album that exceeds all expectations. ‘City Lights’ is an instantly familiar album that is hard to not fall in love with from the very first listen. With enough rockers, ballads and ravers to satiate his fanbase, it exudes the confidence and charisma of a songwriter who has been around the block and has lived to tell the tale.
Author: Ben Hughes