Matt Maltese’s long-awaited debut album has finally been released, it comes in tow with a plethora of snazzy, vintage suits and his iconic shaved hair, all together building an image which provides him with a strong leg to stand on, proving he is an upcoming force to be reckoned with. Bad Contestant is the result of years of honing his craft and style of “Brexit pop”, carving his own genre of sort whereby the lyricism is heavily revolved around love, heartache and the political apocalypse within the 21st century.
Opening track ‘Greatest Comedian’ is driven by heavy, intense bass causing many to lead to a Nirvana comparison, an unusual match to Maltese’s regular links to Leonard Cohen and David Bowie. The track touches on God and religion, linking it to his unlucky nature in relationships and gives the perfect introduction to Maltese’s frequent use of satire and comedy, mixed in with his downbeat subject matter “You’re the highest quality hardwood door/ You’re the final wartime piece of bread”. This lyrical power and skill is one of his biggest attractions and has led to his high acclaim and recognition, earning him support slots with Baxter Dury and Nick Cave at All Points East Festival, giving him the chance to project his talents to wider audiences.
‘Nightclub Love’ is a complete transition, opened with a twinkling, simple piano melody, laying down the backdrop for Maltese’s soft, enchanting vocals. The second verse sees the addition of bass, guitar and drums yet all remains slow and steady, creating a smooth, dreamlike track. His use of call and answer of backing vocals add another layer to the track, introducing his lovers’ apparent feelings which is something often explored in music but not commonly presented in such a way, reinforcing his talent and possible pioneering nature for the future.
Many of the album tracks come from Maltese’s back catalogue and have been previously released, a move many oppose but when you’re as talented as this, it is somewhat completely justifiable and upon listening to the album, reveal just how consistent his work is through the years, all tracks, old and new blend together perfectly and display the change in character and lifestyles he’s had over the past few years.
‘Less and Less’ is the most solemn track on the record, a complete piano ballad over which his vocals croon over heart-breaking lyrics of change over the years and innocence causing people to drift apart from each other, falling out of love and friendship, a serious and mature subject for such a young musician. It is raw with its emotionally driven chorus, confirming Maltese is not afraid to strip himself bare and discuss even the most painful memories and emotions that occur in the cycle of life and progression in humanity.
Breaking the sorrow is ‘Guilty’, however, it retains a downbeat subject matter of lost chances and unrequited love but in a satirical, self-depreciating tone as happy, major piano freestyling give him the opportunity to cut the severity of the tracks prior. This process of shift and ‘give and take’ between sad and happy creates an intensely reflective tone and perhaps a philosophical reminder that in life, relationships and experiences contain both good and bad.
‘Mortals’ brings an end to the 11 track record of perfection, setting a downbeat, pensive mood across the world’s climate, apt in this current era and context. The track begins thin, built around the piano yet less than a minute in, is built with heavy hitting drum beats and high pitched violin expressions, heightening the emotion and leading to dramatic crescendos as the melody begins to step and vocals are scrapped from the track, forcing the melody to take pride of place and revealing the talent contained within Maltese, his band, producers and engineers, this album is a total credit to them. Creating an immersive air, captivating the listener and leaving them reflecting and considering completely on the nature of life (perhaps inducing an existential crisis).
‘Bad Contestant’ proves Matt Maltese’s talent and culminates all the work he has built up over the years of releasing music and capturing the hearts of fans, building a unique image that was once carried by the likes of Jarvis Cocker at the height of Britpop, taking emotionally driven piano ballads into the 21st century and giving them an updated twist with subtle nods to current global issues such as climate change and American politics. ‘Bad Contestant’ is one of the best debut albums to come in years.