By definition, nobody really likes to be miserable, but generations of artists who have cashed in on the feeling can tell you that there’s a real, if perverse, joy to be found in wallowing in heartbreak. Michael David Rosenberg, better known by his stage name Passenger, understands this impulse well. His latest album, Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted (★★★☆☆), seems designed to take full advantage of the shared impulse to seek out sad music in which to drown our own sorrows.
Passenger has been open about the fact he was newly single at the time these songs were written, and it shows in both his lyrics and the general tone of the album. The Passenger we hear in these songs is looking forward to healing and at times is hopeful for the future, but mostly he is still in the middle of working through disappointment and heartbreak.
Heartbreak can of course come in many forms, from total despair to warm nostalgia for the relationship, and Passenger is keen to show us a wide range. Tracks like opener “Sword from the Stone” and his guitar-and-piano ballad “Tip of My Tongue,” while not exactly upbeat, have a bright, hopeful quality to them. “Remember to Forget” is a standout, finding Passenger singing about his desire to forget some past wounds over jaunty electric and steel guitars. Proving he is more than willing to veer off into heavier, more somber material as well, he also gives us tracks like “Sandstorm,” another standout that uses tense arrangements and straining vocals to capture the inner turmoil of someone at their lowest emotional point.
Although Passenger expertly conveys the desperate sadness he was experiencing when he wrote these songs, its consistency begins to feel more like flatness. The whole album has a maudlin tone that swings somewhere between disappointed and devastated, and largely confines itself to that range. Clocking in at just 35 minutes, though, the standard edition avoids dragging it out to the point where it might have begun to feel grating. The final track, “London in the Spring,” brings a bit of lightness at just the right time. Although it finds him in the same downtrodden state of mind, it opens with a grateful vision of spending a day enjoying the simple joys of walking through a city stirring back to life.
Largely penned before last year’s lockdowns, Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted deals mostly with the familiar sort of everyday low-stakes despair that more or less everyone can sympathize with. Passenger avoids existential despair and real, consequential tragedy, instead confining himself to smaller sorrows, keeping his misery accessible. Heartbreak, after all, can knock someone out flat, but even at our lowest point, some part of us understands that it is ultimately temporary. While the world confronts us with sadnesses and injustices that are more profound, complex, and unequally shared, Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted offers a refreshing and valuable escape into a despair that, though it may seem all-consuming, is small, familiar, and finite.
Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted is available to stream and purchase. All profits from the album go to Ecologi and the Eden Reforestation Project.
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