Howie Day

Stop All the World Now

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Howie Day's debut certainly showed promise, especially in the understated heartbreak of "Ghost" and "Morning After." But even in its eventual Sony reissue, Australia was a slapdash, often obvious album that rang with the stubbornness of youth. In his songs of relationships and loneliness, Day was too often the spurned boyfriend rewriting Radiohead and Badly Drawn Boy songs to air his grievances down at the local open-mic night. Given his principal influences, it's not surprising that Day recorded his sophomore effort in London. But he seems to have grown up quite a bit since Australia, and with the help of Verve and James producer Youth, made Stop All the World Now his great leap forward. He'll never outrun comparisons to wide-eyed romantics like Francis Healy and Richard Ashcroft. But instead of simply copping moves, Day has captured the formless yet boundless emotion that's the spiritual motor for both Ashcroft's solo work and Travis' The Man Who. Lyrically, "Brace Yourself" and "Trouble in Here" aren't as specific in their aims; unlike Australia, they never make the listener feel like the she-devil that trampled poor Howie's heart. Their big, beautiful arrangements embrace his voice, which soars into fluttering, higher registers, but also grates with real, pleading grit toward the end of "Brace Yourself." Echoing electric guitars recall Day's effects-laden 2002 tour, which found him performing over his own multiply looped self. But the presence of piano, harmonium, vibraphone, and the London Session Orchestra (most notably on "I'll Take You On") often suggest Bacharach with swelling strings and lilting verses; there's even a sample of what sounds like crashing waves at one point, pulling out all the stops in the production department. All of this lets you know that Stop isn't simply an acoustic troubadour album. But if you needed more proof, there's "She Says." Originally one of Australia's strongest moments, the song's acoustic frame is here bowed out by a full-on arrangement of keening strings, steadily building drums, and enough reverb to fill the Grand Canyon. "When she says she wants someone to love/Hope you know/She doesn't mean you" was always one of his strongest couplets; with the triumphant guitars and surging violins behind it, the track now has the full grandeur of U2's most plaintive moments. The best part? Day has figured out how to sell the emotion as his own, even if the hymns of his heroes still echo through his music.

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