Robert Francis Before Nightfall
Making the jump from an indie to a major used to be a surefire way of being called a sellout, whether or not the bigger budget actually changed the artist’s music. Thankfully, that kind of deaf judgment seems to be a thing of the past, but hooking up with a major can still have the deleterious effect everyone used to fear back in the ’90s. Still a teenager in 2007, Robert Francis launched his career with the beautifully moody, self-produced One By One, but for his major-label follow-up, he and producer D. Sardy (Marilyn Manson, Jet, Oasis) have given his music a sheen that adds too much distance between performer and listener. The songs themselves are fine, sporting the same heartache and old-school rock, folk, and country that made One By One a triumph, but the execution on Before Nightfall—most notably the vocals, which find Francis ditching his previous world-weary delivery for some sort of Ian McCulloch/Jim Morrison thing—strips out the personality that separated him from the run-of-the-mill singer-songwriter pack. He drives the point home by poorly updating One By One’s title track, which ironically offers some hope for the future: The skeleton is still solid, and perhaps once Francis stops chasing the dream of fitting somewhere alongside the Coldplays of the world, we’ll get an album with the old magic.