Black Friday

Black Friday

“I’ve always been slightly obsessive with songwriting,” Tom Odell tells Apple Music. “I hate the phrase, but I’ve always been a perfectionist. I will just keep working on it until I think it’s the best possible thing. But I think it can destroy work—it can suffocate it.” So for his sixth album, Black Friday, the British singer-songwriter went the opposite way, writing and recording raw, unvarnished tracks that often feel more like demos (there’s even one unfinished song here, “Getaway (voice note),” which cuts off abruptly after just 45 seconds). “The whole record was made with that kind of trust in the initial expression—just letting the album be a stroke of expression in this period of time,” says Odell. “Then, afterwards, not questioning or doubting what was said in that moment.” These songs—mostly written and recorded in Odell’s “primitive” studio in East London between January and May 2023—are strikingly intimate and immediate, built with acoustic guitars, roomy pianos, haunting strings, and soft, delicate vocals. Listening to Black Friday feels almost like sitting next to Odell as he made it: You’ll catch, for example, him cracking up at the end of a song, listening in as his orchestra tunes up, or letting in the sound of birdsong. It takes confidence to create something so undone, but for Odell it’s about more than that. “There’s more truth sometimes in leaving things unfinished and imperfect, because it’s more of a reflection of what real life is,” he says. “I think the best art is that which reveals the tension in our lives between what’s right and wrong and what did happen and what should have happened. As artists, we just try as much as possible to reflect what is real. That’s the pursuit.” Read on as Odell takes us through his sixth album, track by track. “Answer Phone” “This was a song I started writing when I was 27 or 28. More and more, I find my ideas and the seeds of songs transcend time—quite often, I’ll draw upon an idea which wasn’t right for that time, but might feel right for this time, and then feels brand new. This is sort of a similar lyric to Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’—calling the person you shouldn’t at 3am. I had a lot of fun writing the words. They’re quite humorous, quite tongue-in-cheek, and kind of tragic as well. It was one take, sat on the guitar, and then we built the track up around it very quickly.” “Black Friday” “I wrote this on my birthday in 2022, November 24, which is Black Friday most years, or sometime around that date. I chipped away at the words for a long time—it was a real labor of love and it was clear to me that the song was important. It felt like more than a song—occasionally you get [one of] those songs that comes along and there’s a richness to it, which inspires you to get it right. I think it’s more exposed, in a way, than the others. That note [at the end of track] is the top note I can sing—it takes a lot. It’s a morning note. You can’t do it in the afternoon, your voice has done too much by then.” “Loving You Will Be the Death of Me” “Again, the lyrics took a very long time. I wanted to be careful with them and say what I wanted to say. ‘Loving you will be the death of me’ is a phrase that had been in my notebook for a while. I found it quite compelling. I’d been reading this strange book, a Jungian take on William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job. A lot of it was about the death of the ego and I think that’s where the lyrics stem from. When you really love someone, you have this desire to destroy your ego. I liked the duality of that: It’s beautiful, but it’s also the toxicity of really loving someone. I was also thinking of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart.’ I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of love being tyrannical. I’m really, really proud of this song.” “The Orchestra Tunes Up” “Something that you always get when you record or work with an orchestra is them tuning up. It’s kind of amazingly tense and it’s an amazing sound. The orchestra take quite a lead role in the next song, ‘Spinning,’ so this intuitively felt right.” “Spinning” “It’s kind of a waltz. The lyric for me that stands out the most is, ‘You love me at my worst.’ That was very inspiring quite early on—it set a tone. So much of the album is about relationships, and relationships with one another, not necessarily romantic. I’m interested in the nuance of relationships and trying to explore that. At the time, I was very interested in how it can actually be the brokenness in one another that is what you are attracted to and what binds you together. I’m always searching for those lines that make me feel a slight sense of danger with them. That one gave me that.” “The End of the Summer” “I was inspired by the film Call Me by Your Name. I watched it over and over again and was just so struck by how nostalgic I found it and how it tapped into something so many of us have felt—when that first love cuts you so much and breaks you in a way that you think you are never going to recover from. And maybe you never do. This song has that beautiful orchestra—it was lovely to hear and record that.” “The Orchestra Takes Flight” “I liked the idea of the orchestra being this living, breathing entity. It feels to me that, in a way, it’s the devil on your shoulder and I really enjoyed using the orchestra in that way. We were trying to prep people’s ears for a melody they will hear later. It’s also the idea of this character sort of freeing themselves—or maybe trying to entice.” “Somebody Else” “The last song written for the album. We tried to do it once with the band and then it ended up me doing it just with the guitar and with the band coming in later. It’s quite a simple song, but it has a lot of tension in it. I really like it. I’ve been playing it over the summer [of 2023] and it felt so good to play—it feels a bit like a hymn or something.” “Parties” “This is strangely quite a trivial song, but also quite dark. The inspiration lyrically was ‘Sitting by the pool/With tears in our eyes/I don’t know why/I come to these parties anyway.’ The chorus is one that’d been knocking around for quite a long time—I think I even used to try it out at the occasional gig. The song became interesting to me when there was a sense of there being things not being said. There’s this immense amount of tension in the air of it. The lines, ‘Jump in the swimming pool/With all my clothes on/You ask me what is wrong/And I ignore you’—it’s kind of a weirdly anecdotal experience, but I spent quite a long time writing versions of that, which felt the most real to me. You jump in the swimming pool with your clothes on—and then there’s a sort of strange muted reaction both from someone else and then you. You don’t really acknowledge it and then it just sort of carries on. Again, there’s a slightly comical element to the song, but I was also attracted to the darkness of it.” “The Orchestra is Feeling Tense” “It feels like making the record to me. We live recorded the album and Laurie [Blundell, Odell’s producer] and I went through and collated all of the times we’d been rude to each other. It starts out quite polite and then there’s that, ‘Your phone’s on.’ It’s full of anguish, kind of like a hangover after a party with anxiety and regret and a sense of dread.” “Nothing Hurts Like Love” “This kind of song is a bit of catnip for me: I love a slightly overly dramatic love story. It’s also inspired by my love of ’70s films—it feels like a sort of Hal Ashby film or something, where two lovers meet up at a café somewhere outdoors. Again, there’s so much unsaid, there’s this feeling of a lump-in-your-throat kind of pain. This one broke my heart slightly—I just felt very close to it.” “Getaway (voice note)” “We enjoy being playful and it’s fun cutting tracks off because it catches your attention—maybe you listen to it again and you wonder why. This is just one of those songs that we did try to finish and couldn’t—we could never quite work it out. In a way, it was inspired by The Godfather. There was something kind of fun about it and I liked the tension it created. It’s funny, whenever I sent the album to anyone [before it was released], they always brought up this one and said the song was corrupted or something. It really fucks with people’s heads!” “The End” “It was interesting that this song isn’t trying to tie up loose ends—even though it’s called ‘The End.’ I guess it asked the question: What does the end even mean? As one gets older, you have so many relationships and friendships with friends and family and lovers and colleagues, and as times passes by, there are more and more people that will naturally get left behind in your wake. They go one way, you go the other. But I’m fascinated by that in the sense that it doesn’t necessarily mean your feelings change. Life, I increasingly find, is full of fragments of impressions you’ve made on people that then come back to you—and you get this amazing time capsule back to another time or another version of yourself. It’s a very sentimental song.”

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