Passenger’s new album, Whispers, comes on like what you’d expect from the somber, melancholy and uniquely lyrical musician. Traces of hope, harmony and love linger alongside pathways of woe and heartache, all intertwined with simple and arresting guitar underneath his soft rasp. Mike Rosenberg, a.k.a. Passenger, to many has only recently blown up due to the outrageous success of his 2013 hit, “Let Her Go,” an achingly catchy ballad about realizing the true value of your partner once he (or she) is gone. While much of his past music leans towards the sorrowful, don’t think Whispers is all tears and Kleenex. According to Passenger, this is his most “up” album to date.
Leading off is “Coins in a Fountain,” a drum circle-style track that brings up the illusion of just sitting around with your friend and jamming. The bongo drums underneath are a new touch not heard too often in his previous work, but they show up a couple times here. Standing out is a repeated lyric: “Love is the only song I’ll sing,” which pretty much sums up the feel of his entire musical catalog. They are all love songs in one way, to other people, to himself, or to life itself. “Coins in a Fountain” also ends rather abruptly, which is a trend I’ve seen from him.
“27” follow with a much more upbeat tone while keeping with the wistful themes – a pop introspection on growing up and taking stock of where you are in life. Passenger has always been incredibly honest in his songwriting, and many themes he delves into are universal to other musicians, but none more than this line: “Written six hundred songs, only twelve get sung.” It’s a painful reminder of the toil songwriters put in for years and years only to see their whole career summed up in a three-minute radio single. Yet, while Passenger may recognize it could be his own legacy under the weight of “Let Her Go,” he doesn’t seem to mind or give any hint of stopping.
“Heart’s on Fire” slides in like a dark country clarion call. Love and longing mix touchingly with the violins. I found myself imaging Johnny Cash singing this song and it becoming an instant classic, like Cash’s remake of NIN’s “Hurt.”
“Bullets” continues down the countryside road with the musical additions of harmonica and slide guitar. It’s old school storytelling ending in vocals only portion, also reminiscent of “Let Her Go.” It also deals with the topic of growing old, which continues in the next rack, “Golden Leaves.” Here, Passenger paints a fragile allegory of aging symbolized by the turning colors of the leaves. It’s a slow dance for the last dance in your life.
“Thunder” lightens things up with a bouncing horn section and a rush of youthful freedom. “Rolling Stone,” another sudden stopper, is a somber introspection about moving in so many directions at once or chasing a dream so fervently that you worry you will leave everyone and everything behind. I would imagine this is a common theme among musicians who live months and years on the road away from any life they previously knew. Will it be there waiting when they get back?
“Start a Fire” is a traveling song with a soft beat and horns that sound like solitary streetlights in the New Orleans darkness, and “Whispers,” the title track, touches something Passenger has dealt with since I started listening to him. It centers around the soulful searcher, someone looking for that thing to fill the void, quench the thirst or dull the ache. It’s the worrying of the wandering. As he puts rather plainly, “I don’t know what I’m searching for/I should know by now.”
“Riding to New York” has drums that tap like a heartbeat. The song is a subconscious reminder of the inevitable and oncoming end for the rider on every train, but there is one last journey to the finish line before it all goes dark and the heartbeat drum goes silent.
Wrapping the album up is “Scare Away the Dark,” a musical challenge to live life to the fullest and to suck the brightness out of every moment and breath it in. It’s a rallying cry built around lines like, “If we all light up, we can scare away the dark.” As he has before, Passenger touches on the materialism and tech culture of the hyperconnected (mentioning YouTube, Twitter and hashtags). He poetically begs for listeners to get outside and learn to connect again without a Wifi connection.
In this latest album Passenger continues to churn out inspiring, touching, poetic, and charming songs that live in your heart like folk tales, teaching you to feel and think again while you sing along. Whispers shows that Passenger has no signs of stopping, slowing down or resting on the phenomenal success of “Let Her Go.” Keep looking for more from Passenger and keep listening. It will do your heart good.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00J7VYKFO]