There are so many levels vocally, lows and highs and even higher highs; it’s fun, sexy, and dirty, all at once.
It’s been two long years since Olly Murs dropped Never Been Better, his sophomore Sony Records release. Since that time, I’ve played it and its predecessor, Right Place Right Time, literally more times than I can count. Olly’s gone with me on the road, on my bicycle, to the depths and the heights of the Front Range. And despite how perfect those two albums are, I wanted more.
Now, finally, Murs has returned with 24 HRS, and, while I didn’t think up until last month I could love him more than I already did, I do: I love him so, so much more.
In a mailing list message, Murs expressed his pride in the new release, saying it was more mature lyrically and musically. And while maturity (i.e., “change”) isn’t always a good thing with musicians, in this case, it’s amazing.
Over the eight days I’ve had the tunes, I haven’t listened to anything else. I crank the volume in my car and sing along. I stream it on my computer when I’m working. I put it on my headphones when I take to the bike trail. Hell—even highway gridlock doesn’t bother me when I’ve got 24 HRS on the stereo; in fact, the more time I spend alone with the album, the better.
With 24 HRS, Murs moves the party from the dance floor to the bedroom, guiding high-energy pop in the direction of R&B. Your hips will still sway, your head will still nod, and your heart will still fill, but you’ll feel something a little deeper: richer, more textured. Pianos and strings dot the songs, along with greater vocal range and unique delivery.
First single “You Don’t Know Love” opens the album, gentle, soulful electronic elements introducing a pop offering that lays bare the heartbreak necessary to fully understand this all-consuming emotion. A lone piano line introduces yearning follow-up single “Years & Years,” which leads into the playful “Grow Up,” an ode to an immature, self-centered ex-, with Murs admitting in falsetto that, yes, the song’s all about her.
Where “Unpredictable” is a slow burner, a paean to love without rules or roles, “Back Around” is a look in the rearview mirror at ruined relationship. “Deeper” is more spirited, upbeat and sunny, with called-out lines from Chelcee Grimes that recall early Wham! Next, the title track begins a string of truly strong and brilliant songs. On “24 HRS,” Murs takes the last syllable vocally upward, moving into a sharp, sudden falsetto that is both addictive and sexy.
Then there’s “Private”; not only is this my favorite song on the disc, but it’s the best Olly’s put out yet, and unquestionably my top song of 2016. There are so many levels vocally, lows and highs and even higher highs; it’s fun, sexy, and dirty, all at once. It drips of both nightclub and bedroom, a public party that’s meant to be kept secret. “I couldn’t love you more,” Murs purrs on the next track, sliding into an easy falsetto. The sensual “Read My Mind,” a reflection on two people who shouldn’t be together but are drawn so, belongs behind closed doors. High-pitched backing vocals accent the refrain as Murs sings, “With your body next to mine/ you don’t have to read my mind.”
Love lost is the focus of “Better Than Me,” with Murs comparing the depths of his affection to those of a rival. The interstanza music is stark, haunting, evoking the proper feel of desperation and impending loss. The most stripped-down singer-songwriter–y track here is “Flaws,” heralded by a simple piano and Murs yearning vocals. The theme of lost love permeates “That Girl,” a laidback popster about letting her get away. Again, vocal accents highlight the song, making it distinctive and addictive.
More unique sounds accompany “Before You Go,” a simmering song that demands one final goodbye. Murs chants some of the lines in “Better Without You,” a song meant as reassurance of being on the right path, solo. Disc closer “How Much for Your Love” mixes two of Murs’ strengths: sultry R&B and ’50s-inspired pop.
As with any brilliant release, a reviewer’s words can’t do justice. But we can try—I can try—to convey the magic of the music, the strength of the compositions, the layers of intricacy, the honeysmooth-sexy-flexible-falsetto vocals. And maybe—maybe—that’s enough to inspire others to buy the disc and play the songs, over and over, until you know all the words and can’t remember a time when this music wasn’t a part of your life. A+ | Laura Hamlett