Tom Williams – ‘Follow the Leader’ album review

Tom Williams’ latest album finds the artist sharing his thoughts and feelings about all kinds of events from the past few years – and how they’ve contributed to the increasingly fractured and divisive world we find ourselves in today. His most experimental work to date with orchestral sounds being seamlessly complemented by drum machines, synths, heavy riffs and deep sub bass, the album was initially finished in March, 2020, but then the pandemic hit and isolation brought about a whole new range of inspirations and arrrangements: ‘I wanted the album to be angry, scary, ambitious and wounded. I wanted the quieter moments to be quieter and more intimate than ever before and the loudest moments to be the loudest to date. Most importantly I didn’t want any of these songs to feel like they could have been on previous albums.’

Crashing, industrial drums and evocative guitar riffs signal the start of album opener ‘Petrol Station’, a song that finds Tom talking about how fascist papers are available on petrol station forecourts for free and observing how ‘Men with flags around their faces scream they want their country back’. This leads to musings on how this anger has made a task as simple as going to the supermarket be one now filled with fear and trepidation. ‘So Naive’ has more acoustic, folky leanings – although with added glitch-laden drumbeats that back up Tom’s words about youthful naivety: ‘It’s the pride in working, it’s the life it provides’. ‘D’Ya Understand’ opens with crunching riffs that reminded us of Oasis’s ‘Swamp Song’. This one finds Tom sharing political observations about the current leaders and their divide and conquer approach: ‘D’ya understand why the people don’t vote?’; ‘Keep you working, keep you begging for death’.

‘Hurricane Season’ slows things down with Tom recounting a story about seeing a dead dog by a railway track and how this had a lasting effect on his state of mind, before the title track mixes deep bass with experimental tones in an art pop style that is impossible to ignore. Tom takes aim at a generation who seem to revel in the fact they’re destroying the hopes and dreams of a younger generation because they ‘know best’ and hark back to a time that never existed: ‘Follow the leader, I don’t think so. Follow the leader, I don’t know’. ‘Heads Down’ finds the guitars being turned right back up again as Tom urges us to ‘Keep our heads down’ and offers a warning to ‘Call the police but you won’t get through’. ‘Kings & Queens’ is back on the more traditional rock & roll route but it’s darkly tinged with talk of presidents being killed and royalty being beheaded: ‘I’ve got a feeling that I can’t shake. I’ve got a feeling that I’m no longer awake’.

‘Little Did We Know’ opens with synths and piano notes as Tom discusses learning life lessons through adversity – ‘Without a care in the world, that was a lifetime ago’; ‘They say good things happen to good people’ – before The National-esque ‘Nothing Without You’ takes the record into a tender and more affectionate direction, albeit one full of self-depreciation and evaluation of past actions: ‘She doesn’t trust me, I can see it when she smiles’. The album closes with ‘Hard Year’, another gently electronica-tinged song about growing up in a world that perhaps has not lived up to your dreams and desires: ‘Is your life what you thought it’d be when you were sad and 16?’

‘Follow the Leader’ is a record that finds Tom Williams embracing all kinds of different sounds while remaining true to his honest and passionate brand of storytelling. Embrace it.

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