Album Review: Duncan Laurence – Small Town Boy

Duncan Laurence drops debut album a year and a half after winning Eurovision
Duncan Laurence made himself a national hero in the Netherlands last year when he managed to win the Eurovision Song Contest. He was the first Dutch winner in over 40 years. The singer-songwriter was still virtually unknown when he was chosen to represent his country and slowly but steadily started building his career after his victory. He took his sweet time to release follow up single ‘Love Don’t Hate It’ and eventually the EP Worlds On Fire. Laurence always underlined that he wanted his debut record to be perfect and headed to Los Angeles to work on new music. Now, a year and a half after his Eurovision victory, his debut album Small Town Boy is here. Was it worth the wait?

The short answer would be ‘yes’, but there are some side notes we need to get out of the way first. Small Town Boy only offers five new tracks for his fans as he and his team decided to just copy-paste the earlier mentioned five track EP into the album and the singles ‘Last Night’ and ‘Feel Something’ with Armin van Buuren were released in the past few weeks. This might be slightly disappointing for those hoping to hear more new music, especially after the wait, but Small Town Boy, as a musical body of work, is an excellent debut record.

With the singles he released, he already showed us he can do more than ballads. The rousing pop tune ‘Someone Else’ with its unforgettable chorus still stands as one of the highlights on the record. With ‘Love Don’t Hate It’, the anthemic chorus of ‘Last Night’ and his Armin van Buuren collaboration ‘Feel Something’, his most electronic work yet, already pushed forward as singles, what remains on the album is a lot less upbeat. As a release strategy it might be surprising, but in context of the album as a whole, it makes for a balanced, versatile singer-songwriter pop album.

Out of the new tracks, both ‘Between Good And Goodbye’ and ‘Loves You Like I Couldn’t Do’ are classic piano driven ballads on which Laurence gets to flex his incredible vocal range. But it is not just the vocals that stand out, the lyrics are undeniably strong too. ‘Loves You Like I Couldn’t Do’ grabs you by the throat with its heartbreaking, but also heartwarming lyrics about hoping your ex finds someone who loves them in a way you weren’t able to. ‘Between Good And Goodbye’ tells the story of a woman who sees her relationship shatter, but she doesn’t understand why. Laurence sings the song to her ex partner, telling them to be honest with her. “If you leave now, don’t leave her with the blame. You know she’s gonna take it anyway” is such a beautifully written line!

On ‘Sleeping On The Phone’, which Duncan co-write with his fiancĂ© Jordan Garfield while they had a long distance relationship, is a more modern ballad with layered, heavily altered vocals which echo the sound of Sufjan Stevens. They also wrote the lighter and cutesy ‘Figure It Out’ together. The chorus shines in simplicity, with a radio friendly, singalong quality, thanks to a hook that just needs one play to settle in your brain. Their other collaboration, ‘Umbrella’, is a song about accepting a break up and letting it rain all over you. It is one of those tracks that starts out quietly and builds up with every progression, a style Laurence proved he already mastered with opening tune ‘Beautiful’. The rain metaphor is used in an original matter and again, the outstanding lyrics are obvious from first listen.

When winning the Eurovision Song Contest, there is always a risk of becoming a one-hit-wonder, but Duncan Laurence managed to release an album in which ‘Arcade’ is just one of the many beautifully crafted little gems. Duncan Laurence proves himself as a vocalist, songwriter and producer. He made the right call by taking his time to craft and perfect his own sound as Small Town Boy is a testament of his artistry.

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