Angus & Julia Stone’s first album always struck me as somewhat simplistic – it had elements that I enjoyed, and it was quite sweet, but I didn’t feel like it was anything more than a fairly run of the mill collection of uncomplicated love songs in the end. Down The Way shows a development in Angus & Julia’s music – the songwriting is better, the arrangements are more complicated and sound larger, fuller and more complete.
Julia’s voice still sounds like she’s baby talking though, perhaps even more so than before. Emiliana Torrini sings like this because that’s how she speaks – she’s Icelandic OK? – and Sarah Blasko even does it to some extent, but when you compare how Julia sounds on Chocolate & Cigarettes to how she sounds on Down The Way it’s clear that her style is somewhat affected. It’s not unpleasant but it feels a little unnecessary – her voice is attractive enough without needing to be dressed up in contrivances.
The lyrics at times are still a little bit pokey, but with a stronger, more Damien Rice sounding arrangement, they sound a little more powerful. Angus and Julia aren’t master storytellers, but they do make nice music, and ‘For You’ (in which they unexcitingly sing, mainly, “Here I go/I’ll tell you what you already know”) is still one my favourites from the album. When the second verse allows an electric guitar and a drum kit to add some oomph to the track, everything seems to gain a little more attitude or legitimacy.
That said, ‘Big Jet Plane’ still irks me with some trite lyrics like “I want to hold her/I want to kiss her” and “She smelled of daisies/She drives me crazy”. The chorus, which repeats “Gonna take you for a ride on a big jet plane” doesn’t really pave new ground either, and the song feels limp and empty of meaning. I suppose a song shouldn’t have to have meaning, and some times the emptiest of pop songs are still great, but the style of music that Angus & Julia Stone write in seems to imply that it is moving and heart-wrenching. The music itself tells a story of lost love and new romances, with wailing strings, bursting climaxes, delicate and charming male/female harmonies, but the lyrics often fall in to terrible cliché.
‘And the Boys’ starts of with a very ‘Private Lawns’ guitar line, but instead of a nice bassline, we get a melodramatic piano riff and more repetitive lyrics. Essentially there are all the elements for good music here, but the difference is that Angus & Julia Stone aren’t really taking any risks with their songs. Nothing is very surprising, or surprising enough. A banjo in ‘On the Road’ adds some new colour – a filmic element perhaps – and Angus’s voice suddenly takes on this Ryan Adams-y sound, which is certainly better than the totally flaccid Sensitive New Age Guy thing that he seems to usually gravitate towards, but after four minutes, the song doesn’t really ever do anything particularly cool – every chorus is the same, there is an extremely boring solo, and that’s it. ‘Walk it Off’ brings in a good strong orchestral sound and driving galloping fast drumbeat, but the treatment on the vocals is exactly the same as the rest of the album, where it really could have taken on some more epic reverb and not suffered. It doesn’t seem to build up to anything as great as the climbing strings suggest either.
All these songs are based on pretty similar chord progressions, instruments and structures. If you like what they are, it’s a gem. If you expect something a little more innovative or creative, you will find this boring. Either way it doesn’t hurt the ears at all and is tight, well produced and charming in its way. Not as saccharine as Chocolate & Cigarettes, but still pretty sickly-sweet.