For all the widespread talk about the music business currently being an industry in crisis, there has rarely been a year of such racing-certainty newcomers as 2008.
The more cynical might find something dubious about the way the chart-topping feats of Adele and Duffy followed so swiftly upon predictions of their success – almost as if punters were being invited to fulfil some ancient prophecy, rather than some ancient marketing strategy.
Leon Jean Marie has been less effusively hailed – his album arrives too late to catch the same wave of year-end predictions – but looks every bit a nailed-on a certainty. But then, nobody's taking any chances with Marie, from the support slots with Amy Winehouse and Mika, to the choice of producers for Bent Out of Shape, which arrives via the midas ministrations of Swedish duo Bloodshy & Avant (Britney, Kylie, Madonna), London team The Rural (Gorillaz) and the ubiquitous Mark Ronson, who co-wrote the first single "Bed of Nails" with the singer and Cathy Dennis.
It's an odd choice for a single, its jaunty end-of-pier swagger picked more, one suspects, to establish Marie's pop credentials before delivering the album's more obvious sucker-punches.
These include the opener "Fair", on which Marie's harmonies undulate appealingly over a cool tumble of percussion and fluting keyboard funk, the minimal skank-rocker "East End Blues", and "You Must Know", which features an itchy second-line snare shuffle and a coldly logical chord progression. Bloodshy & Avant's other offerings aren't as gilt-edged as these – "Bring It On" is too close to Steve Miller's "Abracadabra" for comfort – but Ronson's ballad "Beg", with its anthemic piano chords, epic string arrangement and elegantly askance melody, reveals the extent of Marie's potential: he's the Seal de nos jours, a diversely talented, confident song stylist with huge transatlantic appeal. The most intriguing settings, however, are those provided by The Rural, whose use of mysterious strings, slinky vibrato guitar and loping funk grooves on "Gotta Have It" conjures the haunted mood of classic Bristol trip-hop.
As a songwriter, Marie has no special grace or insight, but he has the kind of amenable delivery that transforms bland into benign, and a melodic gift that more than compensates for lyrical shortcomings. His most accomplished piece is "Fair", which uses the dodgems as a metaphor for life, Marie advising us not to over-react to insignificant collisions, but to get over them and move on swiftly.
Download this: 'Fair', 'East End Blues', 'Gotta Have It', 'You Must Know', 'Beg'Reuse content