It is evident whilst listening to Sometime Sonny’s debut record Thanks a Million that Brisbane based singer-songwriter Dave Campbell wears his heart and influences on his sleeve. He clearly takes cues from the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, Cage the Elephant, The Strokes and fellow Aussie artists San Cisco and Deep Sea Arcade. Touching on real-life experiences, Campbell has collected a catalogue of moments and produced an album that by no means invents anything new, but does capture some nostalgia for late 90s/early 00s. Thanks a Million is a record that is easy to fall into – it is warm and genuine and instantly familiar.
The album is eleven tracks long and covers a wide range of relatable topics such as beer-induced hangovers, fitting-in, drugs and bagel men. Writing from the heart, Campbell strives to portray his life experiences through the eyes of an everyday Australian youth. There is something oddly distracting however about the accent that he sings in, displaying a very typical Australian drawl which adds to the lyrics but can also clash with the style of music in parts.
It is slightly ambiguous what the correlation is between eating ice cream and having a heart, but “Have a Heart”, the first track on the album, provides an uplifting, candid reflection of the artist’s shortcomings and is incredibly relatable. It is a driving number with a sing-along anthemic chorus about a broken man’s self-realisation that he needs to make changes to his life.
“Like Everybody Else”, one of the singles from the album, displays themes of conformity and wanting to break away from the norms of society. With another anthemic chorus and a backbeat almost scarily close to “History” (2015) by Holy Holy, Sometime Sonny has captured a feeling that many young people would exhibit on a daily basis, the feeling of trying to fit in whilst also wanting to create a sense of identity and individuality. This song is almost a cry for help, seeking retribution for thinking that he was any different from everyone around him. Stylistically, this song has dreamy vocal melodies, bright harmonies and relatively simple accompaniment, however the mix ultimately lets it down.
Drawing on experiences as a teacher, Campbell is not afraid to tackle sensitive subjects such as families splitting up, relationships and the very true nature of how humans deal with these situations. “Jameson” follows a similar structure to Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)” (1997) with acoustic guitar, reverb-drenched vocals and string-like pads which then builds to a cacophony of sound. The chaotic ending of this song really draws on the development of the relationships it is aiming to portray; emotional pandemonium.
“Bagel Man” is about a man who sells bagels. He seems pretty good at his job. It’s a light song, but unfortunately it feels like a bit of a filler. Featuring one of the only moments of falsetto in the whole album, it is a nice contrast to the rest of the album and demonstrates Campbell’s singing ability. It would have been nice to hear more of it throughout the other tracks.
Another head-bopping single off the album, “Surgeons”, deals with themes of drug use, peer pressure and of fitting in with a crowd who are clearly bad influences. It is about standing up for one’s beliefs and staying strong in the face of adversity. “I wrote ‘Surgeons’ after coming home from a house party on the Gold Coast. I was expecting laid-back surfer vibes where I would be in my element having a couple of beers and some nice chats. But I didn’t realise most of these mates were starting to get into some harder drugs… it was a sad and strange feeling to realise that perhaps I didn’t fit in with these mates anymore,” he says. Displaying Campbell’s love of surfer-rock, this track is driving and features yet another anthemic chorus, which is quickly becoming a trademark of Sometime Sonny’s songwriting process.
“Don’t Say Much” has potential to get stuck in your head. Busy and repetitive, with heavy influences from bands like Oasis and The Strokes, it’s a fun song which maintains the atmosphere created by previous tracks.
“Fire With Fire” would not go amiss on an Alex Turner solo album or the back half of an Arctic Monkeys record. With sensual crooning vocals, reverb-saturated guitar and a simple 60s beat, this song is reminiscent of the aforementioned band’s “No. 1 Party Anthem” (2013). It almost sounds like Campbell is trying to put on a thinly-veiled English accent in order to emulate Turner’s voice, which is a far stretch from the thick Australian accent present in every other song. On the surface, this appears to be Campbell’s attempt at writing an Arctic Monkeys’ style track, employing many techniques that heavily featured on AM (2013) such as multi-layered falsetto vocal harmonies. It’s refreshing in that it brings an added depth and contrast to the otherwise upbeat pop style Campbell is so proficient in, although it ultimately falls well short of the mark.
Title track “Thanks a Million” is building back to the original style, almost caught between the groove of the last two songs. With a similar feel to MGMT’s “Congratulations” (2010), moving basslines and simple acoustic guitars allow for the vocals to shine through and really become the highlight for this piece. It is a very familiar sound but a welcome one.
“Loser” sees Campbell exchange the guitar for an electric piano which brings another welcome change to the overall sound. It is a self-deprecating acknowledgement of that small part of everyone who finds themselves feeling intimidated by someone who is significantly more attractive than themselves. It doesn’t build like the rest of the album and would probably be more at home on early Angus & Julia Stone records, much like “Bagel Man”.
With a guitar tone similar to Radiohead’s “Hunting Bears” (2001) and stylistically following the same path, “Draw Me a Line” is instantly intriguing. It shows a much darker, aggressive side to Campbell’s songwriting and is a hidden gem on the record. The final track on the album, “Fuck Friend”, is about smoke-bombing at the end of a bad party. It is a fitting end to the album.
Sometime Sonny’s debut album provides an assortment of songs that are earnest, truthful and visceral. He tackles delicate topics without sugar-coating or filtering the themes, allowing for audiences to relate in an authentic way. While it unquestionably falls flat in parts, it is an admirable start to a promising career, providing he can find his own voice on future records.