Opener ‘Every Thorn‘ is brave. It starts off with a You Me At Six vibe, reminiscent of ‘Too Young To Feel This Old’: if you’re a fan of them, you must check this song out. Dan O’Dell is a brilliant lyricist, and as he croons, “Serotonin and alcohol go hand in hand, until you’ve had one too many” it makes you laugh bitterly because of how true it is. The ending of the song is remarkably intimate: stripped back and untouched, it throws you straight into the recording studio with him.
Compared with the odd mix released on ‘The Bootleg Sessions’, ‘Butterfly‘ is a completely different song. Whereas before it was skippable, the finished version has an intensity which gets more intriguing with each listen. The riff is spellbinding, while Dan’s soft and breathy vocal doesn’t appear on any other song on the album. It’s so quiet at points that you have to strain to pick out the words, but that’s a good thing: it’s mesmerizing and impossible to ignore.
Smoothly transitioning into ‘The Right Thing‘ (featuring a guest appearance from Ben Sydes of B-Sydes, whose rougher voice nicely complements Dan’s) it wouldn’t sound out of place on any mainstream rock release. If you’re a fan of Deaf Havana, head straight for this one. The power behind Dan’s vocal during the rising chorus rivals that of James Veck-Gilodi, while the folk-style guitar riff is perfect for dancing to and will work wonderfully in a live environment. It’s musically complex, combining classic rock and indie elements in a skillful blend and embodying the width of Dan’s appeal. There’s something in this song for everyone.
‘Achilles Friend‘ sounds much the same until it reaches the chorus, where the full band bursts in and exponentially strengthens it. The layered guitar lines with the “oh, oh, oh” echo in the background of the chorus add an upbeat vibe to a song that sounded purely melancholy in the past. This song lends the album its title – Dan pondering the things he wished he’d said to an old friend after returning to his hometown – but it works nicely with the more hopeful atmosphere. Everyone loses touch with old friends and that’s not always a bad thing.
‘Water‘ is difficult to listen to. The raw emotion that Dan pours into the song cuts to the core, and the full band backing makes it utterly powerful, sending shivers down my spine throughout the build-up to that dramatic crescendo. With Dan screaming, “I’m doing fine!” before sarcastically asking, “Can you not tell?”… There’s a reason this song makes me cry every time I listen to it.
Following it up with a song that’s just as emotional but understated, ‘Playing Dead‘ would fit perfectly on one of the earlier Heartwork EPs. Admitting, “I can’t remember the last time I felt I was feeling better than what I feel now,” if you’ve ever struggled, you’re going to relate to this song more than you’d think physically possible. It’s blunt, open and honest. This album has deeply confessional moments, and this is one of the most raw.
‘I Was Building An Empire‘ shows just how vital the full band is to this release. Before it was rather bland and forgettable, the intricacy of the lyrics wasted on a song that faded into the background, but the absorbing drumbeat and multiple guitars add a necessary depth that elevate it to another level.
‘Paper & Bones‘ and ‘Saintlike‘ are the two longest songs on the album, both coming in at just over five minutes. ‘Paper & Bones‘ is furiously paced, featuring a riff reminiscent of The Killers and a catchy as heck chorus as Dan sings “I can’t pretend I hate to say I told you so”, which directly contrasts with ‘Saintlike‘, the most stripped back song on the album. It’s a beautiful love song, tender and touching.
‘Dashboard Confrontational‘ is a powerful end to the album. I’m not sure how I feel about the full band featuring on this song, because I love the stripped-back sound of the previous version – part of the charm of it was how simplistic it was, and it loses some of that magic after being filled out – but it’s much stronger with some layers. It might take me a little while to get used to it, though!
Looking at the album as a whole, I can say this for certain: it’s accomplished. The rises and falls take you on an emotional journey that hits close to your heart.
It’s been difficult to review this album because of how deeply it affected me. I’ve played it all the way through a few times now, and I still find myself sobbing at multiple points throughout. Not many artists move me like that anymore: there’s something remarkably special about Heartwork.
Dan knows how to put every depressed and painful emotion you’ve ever felt – every dark thought you’ve ever had – into words. It’s impossible not to connect to ‘Things I Wish I’d Said’, and I sincerely recommend giving it a spin: you’ll find at least one song which will tell the story of your life.
The Right Thing (ft. Ben Sydes)
I Was Building An Empire
Paper & Bones