Like ocean waters -- where it's darkest beneath the shimmering surface -- Tom Chaplin's first solo LP The Wave is a beautiful debut churning with pain and desperation. After his band Keane went on hiatus in 2013, his struggles with addiction reached a scary low at the start of 2015, when he almost died after an extended drug binge. In the context of his subsequent recovery and rebirth, The Wave is a triumph. Charting the painful journey from rock bottom to an optimistic future with his wife and daughter, it's Chaplin's statement of survival and atonement, a cautionary tale of fame and excess. Such albums are hardly rare, but The Wave is particularly moving in its purity. Produced by Matt Hales (Aqualung, Lianne La Havas), this contemporary pop album is also Chaplin's first foray into full songwriting duties. Without Keane partner Tim Rice-Oxley, Chaplin's full vision is brought to the fore in all its honesty and vulnerability. His voice remains both angelic and wounded, capable of hitting uplifting highs and crushing lows. Keane fans will enjoy the confessional perspective and faint allusions to material from that band's catalog: the Bowie-worshipping spirit of Perfect Symmetry bubbles up on "The River" and "I Remember You"; the bleak despair of Under the Iron Sea churns on vulnerable moments like his near-death low-point "Worthless Words"; and Hopes and Fears' fragility washes over "Hardened Heart" and "Hold on To Our Love." The second half is home to The Wave's biggest moments: "Quicksand" and "See It So Clear" are triumphant anthems fit for huge singalongs. On the closing title track, his sins are ostensibly washed away by those eponymous waters. He sings "carried by the wave/My soul surrendered to the undertow/Driven by the tide/I'm heading for the shore/These lonely scattered pieces heading home." Emerging from his personal storm, Chaplin has his sights set on the future. Overall -- despite the serious premise of addiction and recovery -- The Wave is urgent and joyous, so achingly hopeful that it's hard not to root for Chaplin and his family.
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AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung