Daniel Merriweather's debut album feels like it's been a long time coming, but it's actually been coming for longer than you might think. The Aussie R&B singer rose to prominence when he sang on Mark Ronson's cover of 'Stop Me' in 2007, but he was releasing singles in his homeland as long ago as 2004 and first collaborated with Ronson three years before that. So why didn't Love And War chase that hit Smiths remake harder? Well, largely because Merriweather's spent a sizeable chunk of the last two years touring with his knob-twiddling buddy, who shows his gratitude by producing this album in its entirety.
Unfortunately, during those two years the Ronson sound has lost the lustre of novelty. If there's anyone left in the country who hasn't heard 'Valerie', they've either been stuck in a coma or taking part in a wacky social experiment that involves wearing noise-proof earplugs 24/7/365. But even though Love And War sounds familiar – It snaps! It crackles! It references 60s soul and pop! – it's still likable enough retro ear candy. The caveats? At times, Ronson's production flourishes are a little too authentic, especially when 'Could You' threatens to turn into 'California Dreamin', and it's a shame that the hip-hop stylings of lead single 'Change' aren't repeated elsewhere.
However, the fundamental problem with Love And War isn't Ronson, but Merriweather. His vocals always sound impressive, but they often lack the blood, sweat and tears that characterises real soul. 'Chainsaw' features the brutally violent line "giving myself to you is like giving myself to a chainsaw", but Merriweather sings it like he's asking for an especially large slice of Stilton at the Sainsbury's cheese counter. Later on, when Adele turns up for a lovely, misty-eyed duet called 'Water And A Flame', she upstages her sparring partner on his own album.
Merriweather's lack of passion – or, more accurately, his inability at times to sound truly passionate – doesn't sink Love And War, but it does relegate it to mere pleasantness. The many break-up songs aren't as affecting as they could be, while the defiant 'Not Giving Up' just isn't stirring in spite of its swelling strings and taut Motown beats. Even at its best – recent smash 'Red', the regretful 'Cigarettes', that Adele duet - Love And War is hard to fall for entirely. At its worst, it's closer to Stuck In Beige than Back To Black.