Words like precocious, prodigy, and potential don’t carry the same weight as a child star ages. Counterintuitively, if held onto, they will grow to become so immense as to drown a musician in a small sea of past glories never fully realized as an adult. With expectations sky-high and a musical audience increasingly eager to destroy talent as they are to enjoy it, 22-year-old Quinn Sullivan offers his 4th studio album—no pressure.
Wide Awake finds the young musician armed with a few new tools and plenty of matured musical talent with which to approach the ambitious 12-song lineup. Sullivan’s voice sounds different here. Some of the change stems from practice and some of it simply from aging three to four years since his last recording. For a singer-songwriter-rocker in his early twenties, he sounds far older, and that is a nice attribute. Producer and collaborative partner Oliver Lieber influences the tone of the album just enough to lure Sullivan away from his previous reliance on guitar to focus a bit more on composition and songwriting. As luck would have it, Sullivan is equally adept at these skills.
“All Around The World” begins on a brit-pop trajectory in that the guitars chime and soar while the track builds around a solid verse and chorus. Sullivan’s voice receives a few different treatments, but never veers into overproduction, and the twangy guitar solo satisfies without distracting from the catchy tune and hopeful message. “She’s So Irresistible” relies on a funky rhythm, very distinct verse/chorus change, and a completely different guitar voicing to sound vastly different from the leadoff number. With the slower soulful “How Many Tears,” Sullivan shows three rather disparate styles in as many tracks. On “In A World Without You”—one of the album’s best tunes—Sullivan goes the extra mile, fleshing out an excellent pre-chorus segment whereas many artists would have been satisfied with a two-part structure.
The middle four songs of Wide Awake take on a far more pop-friendly timbre. Whether this is due to Sullivan’s desire to grow and expand as an artist, Lieber’s gifts at crafting radio gold, or the tone of the songs themselves is debatable, but the difference is palpable. Listeners accustomed to the author’s guitar prowess might not enjoy the shift in genre, however the songs remain solid and Sullivan gets to flex his range vocally and stylistically. “You’re The One” features one of the catchiest choruses of the set. Even the hardest anti-pop snob might catch himself humming along to its infectious melody.
“Wide Awake” returns to the verve of the first four tracks of the album as a harder, more direct rock song. With lines like, “I can’t explain why she’s in my veins, playing all these games, driving me insane,” the tune showcases some of Sullivan’s best lyrics. “Strawberry Rain” continues this lyrical focus and gently flirts with a few psychedelic overtones helped by some watery overdubs and heavy wah-wah guitar colors. “Jessica” and “Keep Up” each throw their own curves as acoustic guitar, and piano explorations respectively.
Wide Awake surpasses Midnight Highway by more than the average album-to-album growth. The songs are better and more complex without being pretentious. The sounds are larger without flooding the mix. And most importantly, Sullivan expands his personal genre without losing his artistic voice. There’s a lot of variety, but the quality remains high throughout. It would be remiss not to mention that Wide Awake shows great promise and potential, after all, Quinn Sullivan has many albums ahead of him. This current offering stands on its own as a great listen whether penned by an artist at 22 or 52.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– All Around The World
– She’s So Irresistible
– In A World Without You
– Wide Awake
The Big Hit
– All Around The World