Newton Battenburg Faulkner has long been a ray of genuine guitar-toting sunshine in the UK music scene. His percussive guitar style, impressive vocal range, and lovable on-stage personality has garnered Faulkner a loyal and committed following, and so it is with great anticipation that one settles down to enjoy the 31-track odyssey that is The Best of Newton Faulkner… So Far.
I say odyssey, because odyssey it is; the album’s two discs wander through a variety of tracks, from a mixture of assured fan favourites and new tracks on the first side to a broad range of covers on the second. If the intent was to provide a collection that broadly encapsulates Newton as an artist, then I would say Best Of is successful; highlights spanning his entire discography are contained within, alongside new content set to satisfy keen fans. Incorporating crowd-pleasers from all six albums was always going to be a balancing act, not least because – with the arguable exception of ‘Dream Catch Me’ – there is no definitive, go-to list of Newton favourites. Best Of does, rather topically, its best. The majority of the first disc are live show staples, from ‘Brick By Brick’ and ‘Clouds’ to the much-loved cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’. Whilst I would dispute the exclusion of other favourites such as ‘To The Light’ (well worth a listen for the uninitiated, as it perfectly captures the energy and technicality of Newton’s style), overall this is a near-definitive list of excellent tracks from throughout Faulkner’s career thus far.
Newton’s impressive range is clearly on display as the disc skips anachronistically between albums, although this results unavoidably in a listening experience that prioritises song choice over album cohesion. Such is the curse of the ‘best of’ album, perhaps; in the struggle to show off key tracks, some of the spark is lost. Faulkner’s development as an artist has been subtle but consistent, with each album presenting a reinvented style – be it increased depth of mix or innovations in instrumental technique. This is an additional enjoyment that would be lost on a Best Of listener not already familiar with his discography; skipping straight from ‘Clouds’ to my personal Hit The Ground Running favourite ‘Finger Tips’ – a five year time-jump, and a large stylistic one – lacks some of the context which adds a further dimension to the listening experience. These are all excellent songs in their own right; one can only hope that those for whom Best Of might be an introductory Newton experience are subsequently tempted to take the worthwhile dive into the previous albums.
this is a near-definitive list of excellent tracks from throughout Faulkner’s career thus far
However, those of us returning Newton fans are approaching Best Of with two things on our minds – new tracks, and studio-recorded covers. If it’s new Newton you’re looking for, then the three new songs herein – ‘Don’t Leave Me Waiting’, ‘Wish I Could Wake Up’, and ‘Take What You Want’ – provide an interesting view of things yet to come. Again, we see small reinventions in Newton’s sound – a little more muted feel here, more harmonic, with a more even distribution of instruments in the mix. It feels like a natural progression from much of his work on Hit The Ground Running, although this shift may not yet be fully realised; from the beginning of Newton’s career it has been his indomitable ability to incorporate exciting and varied guitar work into his tracks that has defined his sound, and these three tracks have a tendency to bury that within other instrumentals. It will be interesting to see the end result of this development in Faulkner’s next studio album; his musical willingness to adapt has always paid off well in the past. These are the best of Newton ‘so far’, after all.
Best Of’s second disc is entirely composed of covers, and it is here that the real fun begins. Faulkner has long been known for his covers, taking particular delight in performing such material at live shows; up until now, they have – with the exception of ‘Teardrop’ and ‘Get Free’ – been relegated to a scarce few live recordings, if available to stream or buy at all. Fear not, fellow Newton fans (Newtonians?), for that drought of covers is over – and it is over in style. Best Of’s second side has a little something for everyone. Covers range in genre and inspiration, from an enchanting acoustic solo rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (another frequent live-show request) all the way down to a cover of Jess Glynne’s ‘I’ll Be There’, which features a layered vocal mix with multiple harmonising Newtons, truly showing off his vocal range. ‘Pure Imagination’ is more haunting and melancholy than the Gene Wilder original, whilst Rusted Root’s ‘Send Me On My Way’ seems to be a song Newton was born to cover. Elsewhere we hear a strangely summery ‘Foundations’, a ‘City of Stars’ far more tender than its Ryan Gosling original, and – true to Newton’s sense of humour – the ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ theme. Because, why not?
The resulting album is something of a compromise
For those already familiar with Faulkner, it is in this second disc that Best Of really comes into its own. It almost feels as if we are dealing with two separate collections here: a true ‘best of’ album in disc one, and a long-awaited B-sides album in disc two. If Best Of has one flaw, it is that it appears to suffer an identity crisis. Is it aimed at those less familiar with the artist and seeking an abridged, accessible snapshot of his admirable career so far, or is it aimed at the committed fans who really, really, really – for reasons which Faulkner himself claims to never understand, but which I promise you are entirely justifiable – want a studio-recorded version of ‘Professional Dog Food Taster’?
Literally and figuratively, these are the two sides of The Best Of Newton Faulkner… So Far. On the one hand, we have the successful musical career of an artist who has undeniable skill and talent; a condensed celebration of 12 years of excellence. On the other hand we have the fantastic live performer, who unfailingly wins over audiences through his good humour and excellent musicality, here reiterating an ability to take songs from across genres and styles and make them his own. The resulting album is something of a compromise; while this prevents it from wholly fulfilling either objective, there is something here for everyone.
So, what are we to do with these two divergent halves of an album? Cherish them both, of course – and eagerly anticipate the undoubtedly stellar live tour that is soon to follow their release.