“So just one thing before I put you through, will you be talking about Busted at all?”. My heart sank. Of course I wanted to talk about Busted. The questions I had were countless: Are you still in touch with the others? Would you ever reform? Who IS David? “Not much”, I reluctantly replied, “only a few short questions at the end, the interview will focus on his new solo album.”
Yes, that’s right, Charlie Simpson, the one with the eyebrows from the hallowed pop-punksters Busted, is now a solo artist. Having left Busted in 2005 to pursue his more hardcore interests with the critically acclaimed Fightstar, Simpson has now produced Young Pilgrim, an album he describes as “predominantly acoustic driven with big harmonies”. On first listen one cannot disagree with Simpson on his summation; there is no shortage of big multi-vocal harmonies or for that matter violin interludes and Mumford style pop-folk breakdowns. “I don’t think there are many people doing the kind of thing I am doing at the moment…there’s a lot of acoustic artists around but my album has a lot more instrumentation”. Again an apt, albeit slightly far-fetched comment about the album, although I am not convinced the abundance of ‘instrumentation’ is such an asset.
In many respects the voices, instruments and changes in tempo that crowd Young Pilgrim seem a means of disguising the album’s fundamental lack of substance. “Lyrically, it’s quite a retrospective album, I mean I am at the point in my life now where it’s the first time I’ve had enough life experience to look back on certain things and be able to analyse them”. This retrospective wisdom is on full show in ‘Farmer & His Gun’ with the catchy chorus ‘Run run rabbit run, just don’t get caught out by the farmer and his gun, well hide hide rabbit hide, it’s best to lose yourself before you ever lose your pride’. The standout lyric of the album has to be ‘My heart swells to the size of an orchid’ from the lead single ‘Down Down Down’. Quite small then? And oddly shaped? Simpson is unsure of the target audience for his solo record: “The shows I have been playing recently have been a really eclectic mix of people, fourteen year old girls all the way up to 50 year old men”. Young girls and their fathers?
Simpson’s influences are nevertheless heartening – “for the album I was listening to a lot of seventies Americana like Jackson Browne as well as the Beach Boys Pet Sounds” – as are his desert island discs, including Deftones – White Pony, Jimmy Eat World – Jimmy Eat World, Elliot Smith – Either Or, Silverchair Neon Ballroom and Jackson Browne – I’m Alive. It is a real shame that his varied and interesting music taste does not really translate to the album. You can’t help feeling that Young Pilgrim is more about the opportunity of a solo career than the music itself. This is somewhat confirmed by a visit to his website, which quotes Simpson as saying “In the back of my mind I always knew I was going to record a solo record but I didn’t know exactly how that would manifest itself in the music”.
After fifteen minutes of talk about Young Pilgrim, I began to feel confident enough to address the elephant in the room, the band that must not be named. “Do you ever regret that you compromised your musical integrity by being part of such a mainstream band?”, I ventured, to which he replied that as he believes “in the butterfly effect” that “everything I’ve done in my life has led up to this point so I think it would be really stupid to regret anything”. Wise, and surely the go-ahead to ask more about Busted! Simpson laconically dismisses rumours of a possible Busted reunion as “complete bullshit” and although he hasn’t been in contact with the others for a few years he says “nothing came between us, we just sort of drifted”. Now for the pièce de résistance, the question I had been itching to ask, “What is your favourite Busted song and why?”. Cue short pause, followed with “I’d rather not answer that”. Ah well, it was worth a try.