Napoleon IIIrd - Christiania

Sam Lee 04/12/2010

Rating: 5/5

It's not often that an album like this comes along. An album that, from the very second you press play, grabs hold of your ears and refuses to let go, demanding your undivided attention for its entirety. But this is exactly what James Mabbett has managed to achieve with Christiania, his second solo record under the moniker of Napoleon IIIrd.

Opening track 'The Unknown Unknown' is all the evidence you'll need to conclude that Mabbett must be, at the very least, supremely talented (at best, he's a genius). His distinctive voice commands the track, ragged and guttural yet still mysteriously ethereal - but his beautifully subtle melodies are sparse enough to give the track space to breathe. His quirky lyrics are brought to the fore next on the schizophrenic 'Leaving Copenhagen', as he states that “I think I might have political tendencies that sway towards the anarchistic.” But it's 'Guys Just Wanna Have Sun' that sees him at his best lyrically. Effortlessly poetic and often raw and excruciatingly witty, Mabbett is at his most vulnerable here, as he murmurs “If I cross the street if I do see a group of lads, it's not that I'm afraid / It's just that I'm afraid that they might see me cry / And no-one wants to be confronted by a guy in floods of tears in summertime.”

Elsewhere, 'This Town' is equally melancholy, but the glorious harmonies help to give it a hint of optimism; an uplifting feeling that's continued by the irresistibly infectious 'That Town', one of the more upbeat tracks on the album. The ambient 'Rough Music', meanwhile, is less instantaneous, taking its time to reach its slightly uncharacteristic (but still euphoric) dance-beat-led crescendo, while the swirling soundscape of 'I Try' further demonstrates Mabbett's musical ability; even with only vague echoes of his voice audible, the track still oozes personality and a controlled sense of energy.

James Mabbett is so many things - he's a poet, a philosopher, a recluse and, by the sound of it, probably a nutter too. But, most importantly, it's obvious that he's a real person, with genuine emotions and his own quirky idiosyncrasies. 'Christiania' is eccentric, it's unique and it's wholly unpredictable, but it's Mabbett's human touch that holds it all together. It's clear that he's poured his heart and soul into this record, and it's this genuine humanity that makes the album much more than merely brilliant - it makes it completely untouchable. 'Christiania' is, in a nutshell, a masterpiece. Vive le Napoleon!