Fred Clark must be one of the hardest working musicians in Kent. He’s played nearly ninety gigs this year, as well as writing, performing, and self-producing his new album, Stay Smiling. He plays an inoffensive type of acoustic pop, influenced by artists such as Jack Johnson, Newton Faulkner, and Pink, though the first thing I noticed when listening wasn’t the influence of others, but Fred’s own earnest delivery. It’s all very pure and decent, a collection of positive messages and loved up peons to his girlfriend. There’s complete absence of sex in his songs, either in the lyrics or in the music. His sincere ballads, be they plaintive or powerful, are the exact opposite of the type of heavily sexualized pop that Rhianna and her ilk are spreading around the world like gonorrhea, though I can’t say they’re in any way preferable. Real life relationships are heady mix of the two realms, of earthly sex and spiritual bliss, and music that only shows half the story will always seem incomplete to me.
Fred does, however, have a very listenable voice, and though it may lack the coolness of Jack Johnson’s, and the grit of Newton Faulkner’s, it is surprisingly mature for someone coming out of his teens. The production too is perfectly radio friendly. Fred is a Third Year Music Tech student, and certainly knows his sonic onions, giving the whole album a tasteful sheen. Although the majority of the instrumentation is standard stuff, acoustic guitar and delicate piano, there are a few moments when he tries something a bit different, and with great results. The second track Hold My Ghost, has a wonderfully strange whooshing sound during the verse, that helps to add interest to a relatively straight song.
The stand out track on the album for was Your Eyes, a soulful Jack Johnson style groove which comes as a breath of fresh air after so many earnest ballads. The main refrain “There’s only one thing on my mind, it’s your eyes,” has the instant familiarity factor of all good pop, and the music is a lot darker and more sensual than the rest of the album. Unfortunately, the strength of that one song was not enough to save the album for me.
There’s no doubt that Fred’s a very talented young man, both as a writer, performer, and producer, though I for one would like to see him stray from the musical blueprints a little more. At the moment he produces music that few could strongly object to. But it’s in its essential inoffensiveness that its problem lays. Great music should divide opinion, should inspire love and hate. Someone like Fred Clark is never going to inspire much debate, and his well meaning positivity, while slightly grating, is hard to truly dislike. If you like your pop soft then you might enjoy it, otherwise, there’s little for you here.