Passenger, “Whispers” (Nettwerk)
There is, fundamentally, no way to follow 2012’s “Let Her Go,” the whispered folk ballad that catapulted Passenger, the British singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg, from mild renown and a yen for busking to a global phenom who still thinks busking is pretty cool.
That’s the tension — pop’s vital demand for can-do nature and folk’s natural reluctance — on “Whispers,” Rosenberg’s first album since “Let Her Go.” Like its predecessor, the deceptively elegant “All the Little Lights,” this album — a blend of Greenwich Village folk, soft-rock and Celtic music undertones —is almost comically plain-spoken and direct, like folk caricature. Yes, “Riding to New York,” about a wise stranger Rosenberg met on tour, begins, “Well, I met him in Minnesota/He was dark and overcast.”
Rosenberg has a reedy, scratched voice that makes him sound forever jittery and unsettled, as if he’s just been in a rainstorm wearing only a T-shirt. Unadorned, it can be striking, even if its arsenal is limited, like during the spare first half of the moving “Heart’s on Fire,” or even on the pastoral “Coins in a Fountain.”
But while Rosenberg can be affecting, the narrowness of his vision can be suffocating. Most of the time his lyrics are like teenager’s scribbled poems.
Mumford & Sons appear to be on Rosenberg’s mind on the album closer, “Scare Away the Dark,” which captures the agita of his new life, and is something like what passes for protest folk in the digital age.
“We want something real, not just hashtags and Twitter,” he sings, as if social media had played no role in his sudden ascent. He continues, “It’s the meaning of life and it’s streamed live on YouTube/But I bet ‘Gangnam Style’ would still get more views,” as if “Let Her Go,” in its modesty and unlikeliness, weren’t its own form of novelty hit.
Passenger performs Aug. 24 at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times
Chrissie Hynde, “Stockholm” (Caroline)
Though this album is Hynde’s first to be credited only to her, she really hasn’t written with any of the Pretenders since 2002. The solo billing has its benefits, though, as the stunning “Down the Wrong Way” proves, with Neil Young cranking out raucous solos. “You or No One,” with its Wall of Sound-styled opening and chorus, might be Hynde’s happiest-sounding song in decades, thanks to producer Björn Yttling from Peter, Bjorn and John. However, it’s the guitar ballad “Adding the Blue” that, like so many great Pretenders songs, shows how Hynde’s brilliance really is timeless.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday