Martin Lucassen – On My Way – Album Review
Martin Lucassen is like the answer to the question, ‘what if you want to do something in life, and you KNOW you can do it – but you still want to do it better somehow?’ What an awesome story behind this singer/songwriter’s music! Let me tell ya what I’ve found out…
According to legend, Martin decided to go for it and carve out a career in music in 2014. Based out of the Netherlands, initially he struggled with trying to get the sound that he was looking for both out of himself and his music – and he recognized that in order to achieve his own goals creatively, artistically, and personally, that something had to change.
I mean, first off – how cool is that? The very notion that he didn’t want to spend his time banging his head against the wall or trying to force the square peg through the circle hole – the self-awareness and objectivity it takes to stand back from your own material and recognize that something could be done to somehow make it better than it was…believe me when I say not all artists/band out there are mentally equipped to go down a road like this with their own music. But Martin was fearless in that respect; he had a specific vision, a dream, and goals for what his music could be like – and he went after them! He contacted an American production company, started cutting new demos, tweaked them back & forth – and even made use of a professional language service to up his game when it came to English lyricism. These are the kind of bold changes that undoubtedly lead to results…and in my opinion, certainly speak a ton on behalf of the level of dedication that Martin has chosen to take to his writing, music, & career.
Were there results? Immediately. Martin would go on to put out his debut record just a year or so later in 2015; a full length record with twelve songs, The Night Turns To Morning Light was officially released and started an all-new chapter of Lucassen’s life and opened the door to possibilities of all kinds in his future. He’d go on to follow up his first record in 2015 with his second record Nobody Talks About It the year after in 2016, seizing on the momentum, enthusiasm, and support for his songs & style – and one would imagine, inspired by the sheer potential he’d created up by willing to be so open with learning new techniques and approaches to finding his way to where he wanted to go with his music as well. Clearly, he also understands that his songs can live many lives…in 2017, Martin would release a remixed version of his debut album The Night Turns To Morning Light and recreate the sound in an all-new light.
So you see? He’s been a busy, busy man ever since deciding to start making professional moves with his music career and expand his own capabilities & potential as an artist. For those of you reading out there wondering ‘what it takes’ to go after your dreams with full-force and dedicate yourself to the art, I have the feeling that most, if not all of us, could certainly learn a thing or two from Martin Lucassen.
About a month back, he released his third original album, called On My Way…and you gotta love the brief description that you’ll find on the official website, it reads: “11 Original songs with an atmosphere of acoustic delicacy blended with some rock served in a warm and rich sauce.” That’s what ya call short & sweet & to the point dear readers, dear friends. Who wouldn’t want some sweet new tunes covered in a ‘warm and rich sauce?’ From that little write-up alone, I was like SIGN ME UP, I’M IN! Aren’t YOU interested now too? Yeah you are. Let’s do this review thing – push play!
First off, the sweet combination of the music & vocals of “Nobody Knows Me” instantly hits home and welcomes you right in to On My Way. As far as structure is concerned, it all works really well and builds a successful introduction to this record through the verse, chorus, bridge – all that’s strong. The chorus in particular, gives off a radiantly uplifting sound, even while Martin observes that he’s quite on his own throughout the lyrics, which are exceptional all-around. Personally I feel like the simplified chorus was probably the most effective performance-wise, but writing-wise, I was seriously impressed from beginning to end. You’ll discover that poetic-style he’s got when it comes to his lyricism; and at times, as with any artist/band working that kind of vibe on a lyrical-level, you’ll find moments that blissfully attach themselves to the melody of the music and likely a few awkward fits along the way. But LOOK at these words closely will you? You can see/hear immediately that Martin really gets it – he knows what makes imagery effective and emotions real for us as listeners…he’s got a genuinely expressive gift with his words and I felt like that immediately takes the spotlight of this first impression we get of On My Way. I mean, c’mon people – these verses are freakin’ fantastically well-written, and when it comes to singing this tune, he’s done a great job of bringing the playful mix of sweetness & seriousness to life.
“Human Revolution” takes us back…like…waaaaaaaaay back into our history and loosely traces the path of our evolution. I like the factual point of view this song contains lyrically…it’s not really like Martin is arguing that any of this ‘progress’ even IS progress – he’s just laying out what’s taken place over time since we started sparking fires together for the first time all the way up to our modern-day devices at the end. This cut is a great example of Martin writing within a focused theme & concept – he’s got excellent imagery in his words here and completely succeeds in communicating the main ideas that drive “Human Revolution.” Overall, after several spins through this record, I often came to the conclusion that this is likely one of the more complete & accessible songs he’s got on the record; I think that shift into the chorus is pure magic & contains one of the strongest hooks you’ll find on On My Way. Guitar solo has vibrant personality and it’s played to perfection, the backing vocals that show up at times to support the lead are spot-on, and I loved how this tune was able to mix some really big & smooth hooks that are guaranteed to grab people’s attention with so much instrumentation as well. Great control and a true professional approach to the writing & structure of this tune that totally delivers on its potential – it stays fairly chilled-out due to Martin’s vocal style, but highly enticing.
Each time I listened to this record, I found something new to appreciate or really dig about it. One spot on the record that never compromised its position or impact from spin to spin, was “Why Today” – this is that moment I think where you start to realize there’s something much more special here in the music of Martin Lucassen than perhaps you might have thought, no matter how much you already enjoyed the first two tracks. This is where you hear the songwriter connect to the material he’s writing in an astounding and breathtaking, time-stopping & spine-tingling melody that truly deserves to be heard. There’s no doubt that “Why Today” isn’t going to be one of the happier tunes you’ll hear this year – but listening to the way that Martin sings ‘Heavy are my thoughts/I’ve lost love’ – that specific moment of this song just crushes you in all the best of ways. Obviously heartbreaking, but a magnificent transfer of the entire vibe & meanings of the words right to each of us listening – we feel the pain he’s in on this song…and there’s never a better compliment you can pay to an artist other than saying that their tune was really able to ‘take you there’ – you know what I mean? You’re right with Martin on this song and holding on as best you can…hoping that the dude will get a chance to love again after what’s clearly been one of the hardest experiences he’s had in life…and appreciating that he’s able to put a song like this out there that could very well help someone else out there ease their own pain by listening. There are a couple of spots where he’ll break out a combination of violin and piano together to create the music on the songs of On My Way – this is the first one of them, and that shift into a bolder, more emotive style of instrumentation, instantly gives additional weight to the heartbreaking tale Martin’s singing about on “Why Today.” It might be sad & soul crushing – but MAN is this a really well-written tune.
“Live For Tomorrow” has a great energy that immediately comes out in the brightness of the music and crisp snap of the snare that leads the way into this fourth tune of On My Way. Pace-wise and tone-wise, there’s a beautiful atmosphere that blissfully surrounds you in a warm glow of sweetened Rock that contains a positive message we could all certainly benefit from hearing. I think the verses come out with multiple insightful points that make Martin’s case for a better future solidly – and it’s the sincerity of his vocals in the chorus that really ties in just how much everything he’s singing about truly means to him. He’s advocating for change, aiming to inspire, and again, it all comes out sounding remarkably honest and humble – the constant subject might be revolving around what we can do better right now to make a better future for us all, but he’s done an amazing job of not making this sound preachy at all. Songs like this reveal a lot about the man behind the music from his mindset to his own personal ambitions – he’s not just writing another Pop/Rock tune here, he’s attempting to educate by osmosis as well…and I think that’s an admirable trait when it comes to songwriters. I wouldn’t know half of anything I know in life without the teachers I found in the music I listened to – and the world needs more artists like Martin that are willing to take that step in a way that people will be able to truly hear the message and respond to it all in-kind. “Live For Tomorrow” SHOULD inspire you in one way or the other – whether it’s the words or the vibe of the music, there’s an inspiring sound that flows gloriously through this song that should have you getting off the couch to go seize the day and make a difference in this world.
That James Iha solo-record sweetness I’ve been reminded of when listening to Martin’s vocals/music at times probably comes through the most on “Keep Running Away.” As gentle and delicate as the sound of this song is, that sweetness you’ll find nearly hides the pain in what becomes quite the uplifting & empowering tune as it plays on. He’s captured the pure essence of what makes anxiety a seriously tough aspect of life for many of us to deal with – I know this firsthand, because much of what he’s described so well in the lyrics of this song are thoughts & emotions I’ve had to somehow reconcile within myself in my own life. It’s quite a beautiful melancholy that Martin’s created here…you could perhaps make an argument that it has some sad moments in the vibe or lyrics at times – but for the most part, if you listen closely, I think you’ll find this is actually a seriously hopeful & encouraging song in many ways, especially if you have experienced feelings like he’s describing here. Musically, once again, I feel like he’s done an absolutely incredible job on “Keep Running Away” – that’s a fantastic mix on the instrumentation between the guitars & violin, compelling and sweet in a way that’s bound to connect to those out there listening. “Keep Running Away” has got a beautifully honest perspective and humble sentiment that pumps a ton of heart into what’s one of the more subtle cuts on Lucassen’s new album.
“Yearn For The Past” has some excellent moments to be found in its structure & sound and tangible emotions you can hang onto as Martin sings this tale of nostalgia and love. I like that he’s brought-out the rock side of his music more here – I think you can hear some seriously killer stuff happening in the background when it comes to this entire song’s assembly of ingredients from the organs to the guitars to the bass to the drums – it’s all really well executed and played flawlessly. BUT…I think “Yearn For The Past” also reveals something about the artist we’ve yet to consider – which is that fundamentally, we’ve got a singer on our hands here; this is that tune that shows you the heart of what drives Martin in his musical pursuit…it’s a vehicle for him to express his thoughts in words – and you can tell that by the mix. Whereas the typical route would have been to bring that Rock music on “Yearn For The Past” up to the surface and let those dynamics of the music stand-out as they should, it’s all playing a secondary role in behind the vocals of this tune…and I’m not so sure that’s the best move on behalf of the song itself. The best way I can put it – is that he clearly wants to have a different sound or idea in each songs he creates, as any artist would – and he does that successfully through the music he’s made; but vocally, if he’s using the same techniques, tones, and approach to each song, it’s bound to take away from his efforts elsewhere, you follow me? So on the one hand, Martin DOES sound great in singing this song, he’s right on for his tone…but he might be trading that a bit for energy and rawness that might match the energy closer together, to bring the best results of the song to the surface. It’s something to consider; like I said, ultimately, I dig the guy’s singing voice so it’s hard for me to argue otherwise, but I can hear on a track like “Yearn For The Past” that he’s got those slight moments of what sounds like he’s ready to put a more aggressive spin on his approach, but reigns it in quickly from becoming too bold…and I suppose that’s got me wondering what it might be like if Martin was to capitalize on the Rock-side of his instincts.
“Brotherhood” is pleasant! I have no real complaints here, and it’s also not the song that’s going to have me ranting and raving either…it’s a quaint experience that’s inoffensive and enticing enough to keep the volume where you’ve got it set at and continue to enjoy the album overall. I look at this song much like a sports team might look at an essential player that brings something intangibly important to the rest of the players around them…might not score the most goals, but without that presence, much would change in the team as a whole. So while “Brotherhood” is probably too friendly & nice in its vibe by comparison to the rest of the songs on this record to make an immediate impact, it’s still a song that finds a way to contribute to the overall experience of On My Way as an album. Well-played, cheerful, sweet-sound…I mean…you’d have to be exceptionally gruff as a person to resist the charm that this song has – it might not be the song you’ll reach for most often on the album, but “Brotherhood” still has plenty of redeeming qualities and welcoming sound that’ll appeal to many people out there.
Alright…so…I know I’ve said it already by now or at least implied it several times – but this guy can seriously write one hell of a song. Martin’s true understanding of melody is magnificent, straight-up. In many situations where an artist has learned a second language in pursuit of the art, words tend to get reduced down to the basic level of communication – but that’s totally not what you get from Martin at all…this guy’s a serious champion of words that has impressed me time & again throughout this record. Look at “Passion & Attraction” for example…look at how it’s written – and then listen to how smoothly it all comes out in the way Martin sings it. That’s what I’m talking about right there! That’s finding that match for the energy, music, and moment, while still saying exactly what he’s looking to say, in a beautifully poetic way as well mind you – this is a seriously strong tune. I think the guitars are stunning, I think the violins that come in to support are as award-worthy as they’ve been every single time they’ve shown up on this album – it’s one of my favorite parts of the instrumentation you’ll find in many of these songs and it’s a brilliant addition to Lucassen’s sound every time. But again – for me, it’s a lot about the words of this song; he’s got lots of key spots that rhyme for sure, but where he’ll choose to break up the flow of his words pacing-wise leaves a lot more on his shoulders to make that melodic match by the way he sings it, rather than just rely on the cadence of the words themselves. Lyrically, once again, it’s a magnificent job that he’s done in matching the energy to the meaning and the music to the words…he’s got a wonderful way of describing love, “Passion & Attraction” found later on in life, perhaps in those years where you might feel like the possibility of even feeling these things again would be long gone, but Martin proves that the emotions, thoughts, and feelings still burn brightly even then.
My advice on “Happy Dancing” would be similar to “Yearn For The Past” in that sense that Martin is looking for a bigger Rock sound and all-encompassing vibe to come out here, and the best way to do that is going to be to let the music have the edge when it comes to the levels – but to also find that second-gear for his vocals that sets the tone apart from what he brings to his sweet & sincere material & replaces a bit of that smoothness for an approach that seizes on the energy of the music around him. I swear I’m not crazy either – you can HEAR these slight sparks in Martin’s voice that clue you in to the fact that he knows what the right call is…but this might be a case of making sure he can walk before he can run and somewhat playing it safe by not stepping too far out of the comfort zone of what he knows works right now for him vocally. My advice it to embrace that energy & spirit of the songwriting and really go for it Martin – you got this! There’s no doubt in my mind that “Happy Dancing” needs that added spark of energy or enthusiasm to really blaze up to support the overall idea and get people in the same mood as the lyrics would imply – or to have that same level of personality and charisma that you’ll find in the guitar solo that heads towards the three-minute mark and takes this song so confidently to the end. What I like a lot, is that he’s captured that essence of what it’s like to spot someone in the moment and feeling the vibe, in their element…and I really like the acoustic breaking through with the backing vocals just past the two-minute mark. Those backing vocals…man…those are a feature star of the show here – they need to come way up in the mix to reveal what a highlight they truly are here. Other than that…to be fair to Martin, it’s rare for me to come out fully supportive of a track that has anything to do with dancing…that’s on me, not on him; I didn’t end up ever skipping past “Happy Dancing” but undoubtedly every track had an advantage over this tune for me personally when it came to the main hooks I suppose. It’s fun – some songs are written for that purpose and there ain’t nothing wrong with that…no shame in that game at all; I might be more partial to cuts like “Painted Nails” and “Why Today” personally, but for others, it’ll be the brightened-vibes of “Happy Dancing” for sure.
Bravely handling the vocals a-cappella to start the title-track “On My Way” – it’s these more innocent moments like the beginning of this song where his style of singing gets a better turn in the spotlight. I love the imagery he’s used in the words of the verses…I think he’s done another great job of creating a really sincere way of describing love on this tune. No question that “On My Way” brings a unique vibe of its own to the album by the methods Martin’s applied here and the structure that it has in revealing itself as it plays on; it’s a short cut, but presents a whole bunch of ideas. I suspect that dropping out the bulk of the sound as it heads past that first minute was a bit of a risk here – that’s the twist where Martin will go right instead of left down the path you’ll think he’s going – it sounds like “On My Way” is building to something larger, but will break down instead and shrink the energy you’ll think is about to expand. That being said, a lot of the individual sections & parts of “On My Way” come out sounding great; if anything, he’s squeezed in quite a bit into just under 2:30 in length…it ends up making this song flow a bit uneven in the balance of its progression & ideas, but still plenty in there to entertain ya.
Martin has saved one of his best and most serious tracks for the end of his album – if not THE best – I could certainly make a strong argument on behalf of “Painted Nails” being the most spectacular song you’ll find on this entire record. The piano/violin combination for the music is remarkable and hauntingly beautiful…supremely effective all-around, this sound clings right to your bones and you can absolutely notice the powerful depth of the emotion in this song…strong enough to literally bring out a tear or two. There will likely be a debate about the vocals of this final tune; I have the suspicion that there’s a few spots that could have potentially come out maybe a bit smoother with a few more run-throughs in the studio…BUT…would I trade that for the incredibly artistic & melodic moments that hit home as he’s got them here in this version now? Doubtful! I think he’s probably played this tune extremely smart with the specific way he sings this one as humble & honestly as he has. I think the best moments of Martin on “Painted Nails” are some of the ultimate highlights of On My Way – like when he sings the second line of the chorus, that’s straight-up magic right there. Based entirely on a real-life scenario you can read about online, “Painted Nails” is based on the courageous story of young Tijn Kolsteren, a six year-old boy that was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and went on to raise more than 2.5 million Euros for charity by painting people’s fingernails with the time he had left. From regular people to politicians, even multiple celebrities – his story brought the world just a little bit closer together for a moment or two and helped us all appreciate what’s most important…that connection to each other and our ability to live on long afterwards in the hearts & minds of those we leave behind. Tijn unfortunately passed away last year in 2017 – and well before he was gone, he’d already provided us all with a true blueprint of how to make the most of the time we had, for the greater good of everyone. He became known as “SuperTijn” and rightly so – he was a champion among us all – and Martin’s done an immaculate job of preserving his memory and legend in tribute here on “Painted Nails.” It says a lot about Martin that’s he’s taken the time to write this song. As I’ve often said, as artists, we can choose to write about anything…and usually when I’m making that comment, it’s somewhat in frustration of trying to understand why someone has chosen to write about something that seems to have no meaning whatsoever – but it’s completely the opposite case here on “Painted Nails” by Lucassen – this is using the platform for his voice, music, and thoughts in all the right ways. Altruistically sacrificing the spotlight to shed light on the story of a life that everyone should know about, Martin selflessly takes the second-billing and surrenders the final moment to one of his own heroes, young Tijn Kolsteren in a stunning & heartfelt tribute that makes for a truly remarkable & impressive ending. And I’ll tell ya this much dear readers, dear friends…you don’t end up writing a song like this unless you truly are a great person on the inside – this much you can be sure of; Martin has his head & heart in the game at all times – he’s done a great job throughout On My Way and created some monumentally memorable moments & melodies I’ll never forget.
Find out more about Martin Lucassen from his official homepage at: http://martinlucassen.com