Over the past two years, have you felt you’ve been oscillating between internal and external chaos? If so, you may have something in common with English singer-songwriter and pianist Tom Odell.
As the pandemic imposed limitations on our daily lives, it never hindered our collective desire for connection. There are few things in life that have the potential to create connection on a macro level as much as music does—and Odell is doing just that as he embarks on an international tour.
Created and recorded during lockdown, Odell’s fourth studio album, aptly titled Monsters, was released in July 2021. It is perhaps his most personal yet, as it reveals to the world his struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, as well as other challenges he’s faced. He’ll begin the North American leg of The Monsters Tour at the end of March, including a Portland show on April 2.
With Monsters, Odell took a sharp turn from his previous sound and style. Introspective, experimental and raw, the album is written like a diary entry—he says exactly what he wants to, with no glitter or filter. Gone are his romantic ballads, much like all of our social lives.
The songs on Odell’s previous albums felt like close-knit siblings. In contrast, the songs on Monsters feel like random relatives—your favorite aunt or uncle on one track and the cousin you can’t stand on another. The disconnection is a perfect correlation to the collective trauma we have all been dealing with.
In the end, Monsters may not be a “love it or hate it” album, but a “love it and hate it” album. You’ll adore one song and slam the door on another.
While Odell has mentioned his anxiety at random and to a small degree, he appears to have largely dealt with it alone, as is often the case with anyone who has faced mental health challenges. As much as we’d like to think we’ve progressed as a society, stigma still surrounds those struggles.
But in February 2021, Odell made an in-depth and bold post about it on Instagram: “I have been suffering from anxiety and panic attacks for years now. I never liked speaking about it publicly, because, I dunno, it felt indulgent when I knew so many people had things so much worse.”
Then he wrote that he realized that “maybe if I had known lots of other people were going through the same thing, and it even had a name, well maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so bad as it was,” adding, “for that reason, I’m going to start talking very straight with you all.”
Much of that emotional honesty can be found in Odell’s lyrics. In “Numb,” the first single released from Monsters, he sings, “I hold my hand over the flame/to see if I can feel some pain…”
“Monster v.1″ is equally expressive. In the song, Odell uses the chorus to explain an experience that plenty of people know too well—knowing logically that there is nothing wrong but, at the same time, being unable to stop painful thoughts: “And you’re just a monster/ Just a monster/ And I’m not scared/ You’re only in my mind/ Tomorrow I’ll be fine…”
If you want to treat yourself to some classics, some new tunes and a whole lot of feelings, catch Odell at Doug Fir Lounge. It’s probably time to start getting acclimated to seeing each other again and chances are you won’t have many opportunities to see him this side of the pond.
In the end, Odell’s latest creation feels like a loosely woven tapestry of both hope and despair. Which seems fitting, after living through over two years of a pandemic. An overly polished, posh anything would be unauthentic.
SEE IT: Tom Odell plays at Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., 503-231-9663, dougfirlounge.com. 9 pm Saturday, April 2. $25-$28.