LUKE MORLEY – ‘SONGS FROM THE BLUE ROOM’

June Album of the Month

Luke Morley - Songs from the Blue Room Artwork
(5/5)

Out of the blue, Luke Morley serves up the perfect album to watch the sun go down to this summer. After the dark winter months of hardship and loss, the spring and summer months present a time for rebirth, new ideas and positivity – and there’s a freshness, a directness and a freedom to this new album that makes it the perfect musical soundtrack for summer. A summer of parties, of travels, of driving with the windows (or roof) down and of long summer evenings chilling with friends. Since the pandemic, there are so many small shared experiences we have since learned to treasure so much more – and it’s fitting that an album conceived in those dark days of restriction offers us the hope, the truth and heart to enjoy the better days that are now upon us.

This is not a rock album, it’s not a Thunder album – it’s a universal album: A collection of songs that lives beyond genre silos and can appeal to everyone. In a music world obsessed by putting labels on things, ‘Songs From The Blue Room’ stands as a showcase of great song writing – songs well executed with wit, thought and charm.

Whilst Luke Morley is best known for his role as songwriter and guitarist with Thunder – a band that remains his priority – I sensed a feeling of freedom with this album. When you’re part of a big band there are, no doubt, pressures and expectations to produce the music that long-standing fans want, and music that will fill arenas. And on this front, the songs Luke has penned for the last two Thunder albums are among his best. Here though, one gets a glimpse into the Luke that lives beyond Thunder – his broad range of influences, his sense of humour, and his vocal style, which casts a new personality on the way his songs feel. From start to finish, the album feels fresh, it has a life and a sun-drenched airiness to it. 

As I listened to the tracks on first listen, some of the songs made me think of The Beatles, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan – and that’s no bad thing because they were all masters of great songcraft. And for me, that’s what sets this album apart from other June releases. This album is a masterclass in the art of great song writing. Great songs don’t have to be the loudest, the cleverest, or the most complex. Many of the songs on this album are seemingly quite simple – but the art is in their ability to create immediate connection through their melody, to have a directness in their message and an assured confidence in their simplicity. In all that lies the art of great songs.

In my mind, listening to Luke’s solo work reminded of my first listen to Brian May’s first solo album ‘Back To The Light’ in 1992. Like Luke, Brian is a guitar legend for a great band. One knew Brian’s guitar sound, sometimes heard his vocal and could sense his personality through the songs he wrote for the band. But he was always part of a band. When he issued his solo album, there was a sense of excitement in re-discovering an artist on his own terms, the way he wanted to do things and arranging songs around his influences, his sound and his voice. The context here is very different, but with Luke’s solo work there is the same opportunity to get a closer look at his psyche, his influences and how his vocal gives a new context to the music you hear. Luke will, no doubt, soon be back with his mates for another huge Thunder opus. But that’s for another day. ‘Songs From The Blue Room’ is like opening a door into a very different room and, for this summer, it’s a moment to really enjoy.

The album opens with ‘I Wanna See The Light’ – a very accessible song to ease the listener into the record. A simple hook with an uplifting message, the song presents a positive spin on a negative issue – after an era of lockdown and restrictions, when people were locked up in the dark. Here the darkness if offset by the hope of the light and the song captures that feeling of having the spring morning sunshine on your face.

‘Killed By Cobain’ is up next, the first single that many have already enjoyed on the radio. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, this song serves as a metaphor for the time when grunge swept across America, casting classic rock firmly and quickly into the shadows. One of many songs on the album with a sense of nostalgia, Luke here reflects on a moment in the band’s career but also with a sense of humour. And 30 years on from grunge, Thunder are still here and are as big as ever.  

With hindsight, I was a little surprised that ‘Killed By Cobain’ was the opening single. With a radio head on, I think there are stronger singles on the album – but the good news here is that if you liked the opening single, you’re in for a real treat on what’s yet to come.

‘Errol Flynn’ is a truly great song. A song about the male condition, getting to an age when you have a different view on life and, possibly, where your relationship with the world changes. Some struggle with chasing their lost youth and some embrace it – but anyone that remembers the later John Wayne films will get it. Rock n rollers have always liked the ‘live fast die young’ mantra, but when you get to 50 it’s time for a reappraisal – and that’s what ‘Errol Flynn’ seems to be about.

‘Errol Flynn’ along with ‘Damage’ are, for me, the creative highlights of the album and the songs wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Sgt Peppers.’ Whilst the piano on ‘Damage’ reminded me a little of Queen, I put these songs in Beatles world, somewhere between Sgt Peppers and the Octopus’s Garden. Don’t get me wrong, these are very much Luke songs but it in terms of wit and arrangement there’s something quintessentially British about them. The genius in the simplicity made me think of The Beatles. ‘Errol Fynn’ and ‘Damage’ are two supremely good songs and you’ll need the album on CD format because you’ll keep going back to play these songs over and over again.

After a storming run of opening songs, we then have a complete change of mood with the ever so sad ‘Nobody Cares.’ It’s a waltz with a strong Greek flavour on guitar. The surprise package of the album, it’s a real grower and suits Luke’s voice well. On first listen, this song was also the album tipping point where I completely stopped thinking of Luke as the songwriter and guitarist of Thunder and just enjoyed the album fully for what it was. The album has a summer mood and, for me, this song evoked summer images of Sicily, the song could almost be part of a soundtrack to a Godfather movie. I think the song is actually about the mundane goings-on on social media – but the Sicilian picture in my mind held stronger allure. It’s the mood that fully defines this song and it is brilliantly maintained and executed.

This album feels like it has been sequenced for vinyl. There are two clear ‘sides’ of music and Side 2 starts a with a bang. ‘Watch The Sun Go Down’ is a Petty-esque song for summer. On first listen, I called it as the radio song and, when listeners hear it, I know it will have a long run with us on the Monday Rock Show. It feels wonderfully natural and spontaneous and has an optimistic bounce. Not a song singing about summer, this is a song that makes you feel summer. The harmonica flourish adds to the mood. A very simple song and a short song, but it packs its punch. A great pop song for summer.

‘Cry Like Rain’ follows on nicely from ‘Watch The Sun Go Down’ and ‘Lying To Myself’ had some lovely story telling. The harmonica and the narrative made me think of ‘Piano Man’ for a moment. The telling thing about the ‘completeness’ of this album is that even as you approach the tail-enders, there’s not a filler track in sight. Every song brings something and has its place.

‘I’m The One You Want’ is the one track on this album I could imagine as a Thunder album track. I also think this one would work well as a duet, with Lynne Jackaman or someone like that. I have a feeling this is one of those songs that could become a bigger beast in a live set. A grower, it will become a more of a fave the more times you hear it.

Saving the best until last? I honestly would struggle to pick a favourite song from this fine album, but ‘Don’t Be Long’ is really quite beautiful. After an era when many of us have lost loved ones and coped with separation issues, this song will mean different things to different people, but it will touch you all in the heart. A perfect way to close an album – and leave you wanting more.

A final word on this album has to be on the artwork. In the digital, instant-consumption streaming world, we are all conditioned to want – or expect – everything we want now – and at the press of a button. There’s much to be said for that, but from my visit to a near-empty record store last week, I’m also reminded we also risk losing something from the streaming age. For us to appreciate great music having value, we need to see it and hold it as much as being able to hear it. And with Luke’s new album, the striking cover art is part of the album. Having heard it, the cover evokes exactly what you will feel when you hear the songs. It’s also music that lives beyond a genre – and the artwork for this album in a record store will potentially catch the eye of music lovers far beyond Thunder fans.

This is an album Thunder fans will like but to compare this album to a Thunder release is missing the point entirely. The new album feels like a passion project, free of expectation and free to create and express in a different way. And that freedom brings with it an authentic truth – a truth that reminds us that new music today isn’t about the hype, the videos, the social media noise or chasing the likes. It’s about the music and its ability to endure and live beyond genre silos. An album for everyone, an album for summer and a masterclass in the art of great song writing – ‘Songs From The Blue Room’ is your essential album for summer 2023.

‘Songs From The Blue Room’ is released on 23rd June 2023.

A limited amount of signed LPs, CD and an exclusive signed postcard are available to pre-order from Luke’s music store now. Pre-order CD and vinyl formats at https://lukemorley.tmstor.es

Check out the ‘Killed By Cobain’ video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKhFblU4gQU  On next Monday’s rockshow at 7pm, I will be airing an interview hour special with Luke Morley, who will be talking about the making of the new album.

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