You’ve probably heard “7 Years” a million times by now. Its huge success came almost out of nowhere, and is all the more surprising considering how intimate and heartfelt a song it is, constantly warping the lyrics of its chorus and avoiding the showiness that modern pop appears to require as a prerequisite. What’s obvious is that it came from the heart of Lukas Graham, the Danish vocalist of a group who confusingly use the name of their singer. On this self-titled album, it is the emotional commitment put into the material, alongside clear nous for songwriting, which comes up trumps.
The blend is best demonstrated on “Take the World by Storm” and “You’re Not There”, which kick the tempo up a bit but retain the theme of triumph through adversity. Lukas Graham is an easy album to like, as the man himself is a highly relatable figure and the songs are very easy to listen to. There are a plethora of ballads, all of which work effectively. “Happy Home” and “What Happened to Perfect” are beautiful odes to family and lost love respectively; “Better Than Yourself” is a darker tale of a friend whose life went in the wrong direction, its cascading piano driving a captivating performance. As with most good pop albums, there are a variety of sounds and instruments woven into each song with the occasional gimmick thrown in for good measure. “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout Me” works well as a shuffling jazz number, and though the children’s choir on “Mama Said” is more grating they do help to lift the chorus melody.
Perhaps the most clever trick is how the songs here manage to sound both timeless and very much suited to the modern day, whether it’s a dab of OneRepublic synth or an elemental soul influence that could just of readily have been plucked from Stevie Wonder as it could Adele. There’s even a gospel choir roped in for stirring closer “Funeral”, which could be the closest thing this generation gets to Queen’s “Somebody to Love”. It doesn’t detract from Graham’s own strength as a singer, and though he can get somewhat whiney in the upper reaches of his range he suits the emotional content of the music. He, and the band as a whole only make one major slip-up on the terrible “Strip No More”, a misguided attempt at tongue-in-cheek debauchery that single-handedly kills a lot of the goodwill that Lukas Graham had built up to that point.
It’s a striking nadir to an otherwise consistently very good international debut. Lukas Graham won’t win any awards for originality but any time spent in their company will be highly enjoyable. The band succeeds at tackling both punch-the-sky pop and thoughtful balladry, and has presented a very good case to be listened to beyond the entry point of “7 Years”.
== Review by Michael Bird ==