tue 21/05/2024

Album: Tones and I - Welcome to the Madhouse | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Tones and I - Welcome to the Madhouse

Album: Tones and I - Welcome to the Madhouse

Debut full album from Australian hit-maker is heartfelt and jovially characterful

Tones and I gives Amityville a makeover

This writer has often pleaded to move away from vocal homogeny in pop. The current value placed on technical skill and hackneyed vulnerability-signifying has become a bore. It’s limiting that Chris Martin-meets-Ed Sheeran or Beyoncé-meets-Whitney Houston are primary templates.

That said, the voice of Aussie singer Toni Watson – AKA Tones and I – is a challenge, a cloyingly cute teen-squeak of an instrument (although capable of taking flight). In the end, though, her music represents her bountiful character, and her voice suits it just fine.

Debut album Welcome to the Madhouse will be a test-case for Watson. In 2019 she had one of the year’s biggest hits in “Dance Monkey” but a triumphant global tour was cut short by COVID before she could reach Europe. A star in her home country, the commercial impact of this album, which she wrote alone and co-produced, will indicate if she’s more than that.

Tones and I’s music is pared back by contemporary chart standards, as if the songs had been written straightforwardly, often utilizing a doo-wop template, then backed with sparse, usually jaunty, finger-clicking, unadorned electronic production. The lyrics, however, reveal someone fighting their corner, bullishly so on “Westside Lobby” which bemoans negative attention and/or fawning since her success, opening “I’m sick of people telling me I’m special/And I’m so sick of people telling me I’m kind/And I know they’re not really being honest/Because, honestly, I’m not that fucking nice.”

Coming on like a Meghan Trainor channelling Lily Allen, songs such as “Just a Mess” and “Lonely” sing of not fitting in, and the music throughout occasionally becomes gospel-tinged, as if to take flight against such woes, notably on “Sad Songs”, although subject matter also ranges into the party zone (such as on “No Sleep”) and other areas. There’s a  mid-album slump but things pick up with a hit contender in the big brassy upbeat soul-pop of “Cloudy Day”, which is followed by the sassy, jazzy “You Don’t Know My Name”. Closer “Bars (RIP T)”, a eulogy for a friend, suggests that Tones and I should spice future material with more hip hop. It concludes a likeable album of personality, heart and jovial gobbiness.

Below: Watch the video for "Won't Sleep" by Tones and I

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