Toby Brooks reviews Dermot Kennedy’s debut album
Last year I was tasked to review an artist I had never heard of before who was playing a gig up at The Lemon Grove. Dermot Kennedy, I was told, was an up and coming artist who was yet to release his debut album, working alongside notable record producer Mike Dean (previous collaborators include Kanye West, 2Pac, Travis Scott and Jay-Z) and regularly selling out his shows. Once I looked at him on Spotify it became very obvious how he had achieved so much already. I think the first song of his that I listened to was either ‘Young & Free’ or ‘Glory’, both of which really struck me as fresh and unique. It must be the magical combination of an artist with an incredible gritty and powerful voice working with a producer who has worked with some of the biggest names in hip-hop and rap that really brings the music to life. You can hear these influences in his music, and if you can’t, then go and listen to Dermot Kennedy’s Chaos & Art Playlist on Spotify which he curated especially so his fans could learn about his influences ahead of the release of his album.
Seeing Dermot live took his music to a whole new level for me. I believed the grandeur and power in every aspect of his songs that I had heard on Spotify to be only possible when produced and perfected in a recording studio. However, I was very mistaken. He has a voice fit for stadiums and to experience that in an intimate a venue as The Lemon Grove was quite something. I am not usually one to take a lot of videos on my phone during live performances, but I couldn’t quite believe was I was hearing and seeing so I couldn’t help myself (as a result I have very little storage on my phone because even now, almost a year later I can’t bring myself to delete any videos).
the album is focused on the concept that life is finite so we should make the most of every moment
So, it is no surprise at all to me that his debut album, Without Fear, currently sits at number one. Dermot says that the album is focused on the concept that life is finite so we should make the most of every moment. His driving force is his fear of death, but he does everything he can to live a life without fear (hence the title). The first half of the album is comprised mainly of songs which will be very familiar to fans, opening with a slightly shortened version of ‘An Evening I will Not Forget’, a beautifully calm, passionate, desperate love song. In my opinion the opening song is one of the finest examples of Dermot’s lyricism, so honest and open (‘open and vulnerable’, as he says in another of his songs). Also included in the opening half of the album is his most popular song, ‘Power Over Me’ (as performed on The Ellen Show), an infectiously catchy yet still somehow still so poetically ‘open and vulnerable’ tune, along with a personal favourite, ‘Moments Passed’. I can vividly remember his performance of this song when I got to see him perform last year primarily because of the intense opening that smacks you directly in the face and the pure density of the song.
Another notable feature on the album is ‘Outnumbered’, probably the closest thing to a pop song Dermot has in his canon – a warming love song that might well get stuck in your head. Other than that, the album’s b-side is full of new material, all of which have been added to my current playlist. ‘Rome’ is a heart wrenching reflection on a broken relationship that suits Dermot’s voice absolutely, ‘Dancing Under Red Skies’ is equally as effectively dark yet wholesome, ‘Outgrown’ has a similar feel to it as much of Dermot’s earliest work, and ‘Redemption’ sticks out slightly with a subtly different vibe, almost Tyler, the Creator-esque. Then we come to the title track – ‘Without Fear’ really completes the album and gives off the pretty powerful message that the work is meant to push.
the opening song is one of the finest examples of Dermot’s lyricism
Notable omissions from the album include ‘For Island Fires’ and ‘Family’, my definitive personal favourite. If you’re interested enough, I would recommend listening to a live version on YouTube but the Spotify version also does the song justice. ‘After Rain’ is also a big one that didn’t make it on the album, I remember being amazed when he sung this live and the entire audience sang back at him the line, ‘You won’t go lonely’, the moment was definitely at risk of becoming cringey but the atmosphere prevented it from doing so (I myself didn’t join in because I was unsure of the lyrics at the time). There are many other songs that Dermot chose not to include in the album, and I would recommend taking the time to listen to them if you do enjoy the album.
This album is all consuming. He really manages to suck you in and surround you, much like he does during his live shows. That is what sets it apart from others and what sets him apart as an artist. Dermot is exploiting his natural talents and creating the most beautiful art. However, as you may have deciphered, it is not a cheerful album so try not to become too consumed by it.