"I'm going to do something I never do," confesses Allen Stone. "I've got a song called 'The Fly' I wrote two days ago in my hotel room I'd like to sing to you." It's a courageous and daft act from this resolutely bland American soul singer.
The unwieldy Stone resembles a blend of Noddy Holder and Napoleon Dynamite, with his straggly blond locks, chunky glasses and goofy smile. The energetic 24-year-old is from The Meters, Roachford and Jamiroquai school of middling funk. Giddy comparisons have been made with Stevie Wonder, and the Motown maestro is clearly a huge influence, but Stone's unambitious groove is more "Part-Time Lover" Wonder than Innervisions Stevie.
This earnest artist from tiny Chewelah, Washington has been generating quite a bit of barely comprehensible "heat" Stateside, from Conan O'Brien gushing about him on his chat show to Stone’s performance of “Unaware”, filmed in his mother’s living room, attracting, staggeringly, nearly two million hits on YouTube. It's baffling.
In his favour Stone, the son of a preacher man, is a relatively commanding live presence. The crowd sway their arms in the right places, some even dance. However, this showcase for his new album, Allen Stone, is a mainly joyless affair peppered with the tenor singer's fondness for irksome falsetto screeches and a tendency to add a warbling flourish at the end of most of his tracks.
Lyrically Stone proves inelegant and clunky, claiming "Politicians manipulate minds/ And public opinion's either left or it's right/ No progression/ we just argue and fight/ For centuries we've been digging divides” on “What I’ve Seen”. Nothing earth-shattering then, and his voice and sound are simply too derivative.
"I'm sick and tired of soul music looking so crisp and clean and proper," Stone has claimed. "My soul is just a little bit greasy." It’s not, though. It’s very (smooth) radio and shopping centre-friendly funk. He regularly crouches down behind his microphone to demonstrate how much he's feeling the funk. Stone the crows, Jamiroquai is funkier than this. Not a sentence you see every day. This experience is like absorbing a cheap, unsatisfying instant coffee.
There's no lack of gusto though, as Stone covers such hot topics as insomnia (on "Sleep"), love ("The Wind", where he informs us "Girl we're nothing more than life's waves cast upon life's shore") and, er, the economy ("Unaware"). "Why do you keep on making us hear your song," as Stevie Wonder once sung on "You Haven't Done Nothing". Indeed, stop now.