Mainly Genius

Guest Review: Paolo Nutini – Sunny Side Up
December 9, 2009, 8:57 pm
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Those who heard Paolo Nutini’s 2006 debut breakthrough These Streets heard a 19 year old with a big future. Acoustic-based singer-songwriters aren’t hard to come by, but Paolo’s accent, rock band set-up, and good looks set him apart and gained him media coverage and plenty of adoring fans.

But its 2009, and he’s on the difficult second album. Still only 22, after success with singles such as Last Request and Jenny Don’t Be Hasty, the record company would certainly have been hungry for a good follow-up.

Sunny Side Up was released at the end of May just in time to be the soundtrack for the English summertime. And when the first single was released, listeners could have been excused for thinking it was going to be a familiar second album, despite Candy being a good track. Paolo singing to his lover over a delicate, acoustic 4-chord set-up seemed pretty in keeping with the majority of These Streets.

However, come the album’s release, you hit the play button and the first thing you hear is a brass section with some free playing organ in the background. With a ‘Hey!’ from Paolo, we’re suddenly in reggae mode and it is unbelievable. I found myself picking up the CD inner expecting to see the words ‘Producer: Mark Ronson’ but I was glad to see the name Ethan Johns instead.

This first track, 10/10 clocks in at under 3 minutes and is a perfectly fun, catchy song, but needless to say it’s a massive shock. Paolo’s band are barely audible for trumpet and keyboard.

But as we get past those 3 minutes, it seems he has struck a much nicer balance. Coming Up Easy, released as the album’s 2nd single, charted at only number 62 in the UK charts, his lowest charting single to date. However, for me, it is clearly the best song on the album. There is an almost motown-esque vibe to the song, but importantly the band is back in full glory. Brilliant Hammond organ riffs compliment, and with very small motifs the brass is completely welcome come the second chorus.
However, the golden moment of the song, in fact, the golden moment of the album comes in the final section of Coming Up Easy. The band drop down to just a simple snare-rim beat and the bass moving between two notes, echoed by the organ. The stage is set, and in a low swooning voice Paolo declares, “It was in love I was created, and in love is how I hope I die”. The drums signal for the band to rise back up together, and with Paolo singing higher the tension rises.

As Paolo lets out his rockier side, he hits his peak and it sounds simply brilliant. The band continues to jam for another minute, and it’s worth it. Each repeat sees the band playing harder and harder, and with Paolo improvising and wailing more on each line it’s a minute of magic which, despite there being 10 tracks left, is never quite matched on the album again.
The third single from the album was Pencil Full Of Lead and was undoubtedly the most popular. Banjo strums in the background along with playful drums, but oh my, the trumpets are most definitely back, along with everybody’s favourite – the harmonica solo. By the time Paolo is amongst it shouting incomprehensible words (and at the end murmuring), it just sounds like the equivalent of a 12-bar jam that 14-year-olds would consider blues. On the plus side, its only 2 minutes and 27 seconds long, and its meant in a much more fun manner than a bitter old man like me is willing to accept. But the brass intro really should make you cringe as well…

Growing Up Beside You, like Candy, sees the brass ditched, and more of a country influence comes in. Like he did so often in These Streets, Paolo is singing about his youth, and although the layered vocals grow tiresome quite quickly, the songs do work well and deserve their place on the album.

The second half of the album opens with another motown influenced number – No Other Way has more than a little in common with Coming Up Easy. A little more laid back, but still – the structure and the ideas are essentially the same, with another big note hitting ending from Paolo. It serves best as a reminder of Coming Up Easy and is in no way of the same quality.

Tricks Of The Trade is another high moment on the album. It’s just a man and his guitar, and it’s a welcome break. In the chorus Paolo sings ‘Lord, how our glory may fade, well at least we learned some tricks of the trade’, over effectively cheap sounding acoustics. It’s what was good about These Streets and it is definitely still worth hearing.

However, Chamber Music is an incomparably bad version in the same style. And when you’re hearing the harmonica blaring out of the speakers in what could conceivably be interpretations of Johnny Cash off-cuts such as Simple Things and High Hopes, it seems worth just pressing stop and starting the album again for a few tracks.

The thing is, Sunny Side Up sounds like two albums in one. One is a motown or soul album with reggae-esque beat influences, and the other is These Streets gone country. Or, These Fields.
For a second album, keeping the old fans happy whilst offering something to potential new fans seems a good way to go. And maybe making such a big change wasn’t such a strange move after all when we look at it like this. After all, there is no point in making the same album twice, as has been the downfall of many one hit wonders over the years.
However, the album still doesn’t quite feel right jumping from one to the other, and although Paolo still has a tremendous and unique voice, his broadened sound is one that is still developing. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Paolo Nutini – Coming Up Easy

Tom Stephens,
Visit Tom at

Buy Sunny Side Up on iTunes or Visit Paolo Nutini


3 Comments so far
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Excuse me for writing Off-Topic but which wordpress theme are you using? Looks awesome.

Comment by daupspeague

It’s called Benevolence but I did a bit of my own customising!

Comment by mainlygenius

Brilliant post about Paolo Nutini, I love his music, quite old school especially the way he sings. When I first saw his picture for the first time, I found it quite confusing puting a voice to picture! He sounds soooo much older! He’s a good talent right there!

Rozie x

Comment by roziegyems

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