When I spotted “Charlie Simpson instore” on Rise Records’ Cheltenham store window, I was kind of taken aback. I realised that Fightstar were on hiatus, but I had no idea that he was bringing out a solo album. When I spotted “Free” in big bold letters, I was similarly surprised and delighted. Not that Charlie himself is driven by the cash – he wouldn’t have left Busted if that was the case – but it’s really awesome that there are independent stores outside of London prepared to put on acoustic sets and signings. So I went down, I queued up, my boyfriend complained, the mob ran in, all I could see was a hat and a set of eyebrows but eventually walked out with a brand new and signed copy of Young Pilgrim.
The first thing that strikes you about Young Pilgrim is its beauty. It’s really easy to slap together an acoustic album that sounds like it should be on The OC, but Young Pilgrim is much more than that. Similar to the intricacies that a lot of the softer Fightstar songs hold, Young Pilgrim simply exudes sweeping melodies and pretty finger picking by the bucketful. Charlie’s vocals fit perfectly, despite often taking the ‘heavier’ role in Fightstar. Imagine Mercury Summer, but even more passionate and delicate. That’s right. It’s simply sublime. However, this isn’t just a soppy affair. There’s a real folk punk feel to many of the songs, particularly opener Down Down Down, which begins as a soft, downbeat beauty but builds up and up until it reaches an incredible climax. A lot of songs drop the punk too and go back to some of Charlie’s earliest influences, such as Jackson Browne and the newer ones like Bon Iver. A lot of songs towards the end of the album have the same dark country feel as Bon Iver’s work, particularly the vocal intro to Hold On, and are wonderfully crafted. Charlie also shows himself to be extremely diverse throughout the course of the album, utilising his talent to introduce a wide number of instruments into the fold. The album is entirely atmospheric and immersive, drawing the listener straight in.
Although every song is impressive, there are certain ones which command more notice. As mentioned, the opener Down Down Down immediately grabs your attention. The following track and new single Parachutes is a simply beautiful and heart-wrenching affair about independence and raw emotion, with some perfectly placed piano in tow. Cemetery, the iTunes single of the week, exhibits that ‘dark country’ aspect but with an uplifting chorus. Suburbs pounds through Charlie’s adolescence with some incredible harmonies. Lyrically, Charlie reveals himself as an intelligent and thoughtful man, with songs approaching topics like love, friendship, the search for God and his fears and hopes for the future. All of the songs here are so more in depth than any of his previous material and Young Pilgrim is a highly personal album. It’s also a very optimistic album – as the chorus from final song Riverbanks proclaims, “Just open your eyes, something beautiful is happening.”
Young Pilgrim may be the result of Fightstar’s extended hiatus and truthfully, a massive departure from their sound, but it shouldn’t deter any Fightstar fans in the slightest. If you were still on the fence regarding Charlie Simpson’s detachment from Busted (although how you’d still be there following One Day Son, All This Will Be Yours, I have no idea) then it could be no clearer now. Charlie Simpson is an accomplished songwriter in his own right and Young Pilgrim is a fantastic example of that.
5 out of 5 high fives!