Title: Plan A
Artist: Graham Candy
2.5/5 stars
Released: 23/09/16
Reviewed by: RUBEN MITA

In 2013, Auckland-born Play It Strange graduate Graham Candy took off and did what has become an aspiring musician’s tradition: Move to Berlin.

This hallowed pilgrimage has famously brought out creative and experimental peaks in artists such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and, recently, many dance and electronica musicians.

However, on his own offering, his debut album Plan A, Candy instead sticks to the safe road of fairly formulaic radio pop. Encompassing 45 minutes of tween-safe neon party choruses and torch-waving ballads, this is a confident album that knows exactly what it is trying to be, even if it isn’t quite confident enough to attempt to break the genre mould.

The album opens with the slow-burning piano ballad Home, and immediately the most noticeable aspect is Candy’s high-pitched, at times androgynous vocals. Clearly aiming for “quirky,” they are often reminiscent of fellow pop warblers Passenger and Ben Howard, the influence of the latter heard strongest in the acoustic guitar finger-picking and vocal melody of Broken Heart. Credit to this song for managing to resist the temptation to explode into yet another predictable chorus, even if it only does so by substituting it with Mumford-esque basskick and strumming.

Elsewhere however, Candy cannot seem to resist that temptation, and in the middle of the album song after song whizzes by on soaring fist-in-the-air-and-heart-on-sleeve singalongs that begin to sound like the soundtracks to feel-good TV adverts. (I’m looking at you especially, Glowing In The Dark and Kings And Queens.)

The Kiwi shout-out My Wellington comes off almost as a genre parody, featuring a chorus that does its best to make the words “my Wellington” repeated three times in a row sound like a generational calling card. 

However, the radio-like vocal distortion on several tracks works well, particularly on 90 Degrees, which picks up a few redeeming bonus points for the surprisingly Tom Waits-ian lyric, “She pulled me right in with the tip of her finger/Walked up a saint and sat down a sinner/Told me straight away about the death of her mother.”

The sparsely produced introduction to Paid A Nickel is another standout moment, and shows what Candy is capable of as a songwriter, without the gimmicky production.

But aside from a few nice gospel piano turns on the opening track, there isn’t a chord progression on the album that isn’t straight from the public library of commonly-used pop presets.

Yet if this is what you’re looking for, and if we judge the album as an attempt to perfect this certain weightless style of radio-centric pop, then Plan A delivers from start to finish. The songs, while certainly similar in structure and formula, are all sonically different enough to just be distinct from one another, and are perfect summarisations of all the basic elements of modern pop, with occasional glimmers of greater possibilities.

It’s not a particularly bold or original debut, but it’s solid and consistent, and delivers from start to finish. If Graham Candy is what you’re looking for then you’ll certainly know it straight away.