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Tom Odell: A Polarizing New Voice Shows Promise

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When Tom Odell received the 2013 BRIT Critics' Choice Award in February, his career looked to be on the fast track. Previous winners of the award, which recognizes a promising newcomer, include the megastar Adele. Just weeks after the win, a critic at the music weekly NME gave Odell's album a rare zero-star review, describing him as a "poor misguided wannabe." So, who's right?

This much is for sure: Tom Odell is a type — the somewhat fragile, sensitive soul who sings busted-apart love songs while hunched over a piano. Musically, he travels in the same lane as bands like Coldplay, and describes heartbreak using big, anthemic chords.

His songs can feel fervent and calculated at the same time; the melody in "Sense" may not be terribly daring, and the words describe a fairly ordinary moment in the arc of a love affair. Still, there's something arresting and vulnerable about the way Odell sings it.

Most of the album isn't quite this raw — and, as a result, not as riveting. Perhaps that's why some in the British press groan about Tom Odell as the latest dismaying example of paint-by-numbers pop music. Sure, he's working within the lines of an established template. But once in a while, sometimes for just a measure or two, he slips out of the familiar to offer a moment of unguarded, transcendent beauty. If he can manage a whole record of those, he'll really be someone to watch.

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