Moscow-based Azerbaijani delivers his debut with one eye on the 1980s and another on his burgeoning career as an artist
an Sultanov is a creative chap. When he’s not singing, songwriting and recording, he’s writing scripts and creating visual art pieces – examples of which you can see on this album’s cover and its animated music videos. No surprise when you consider his grandfather was an internationally celebrated painter in his native Azerbaijan, and aunt a world-renowned gallerist and sculptor. But if he intends to use this album to showcase his art, should we assume his heart isn’t really in this music lark?
Lyrically there are clues – recurring themes of dreamy escapism, claustrophobic relationships and frequent mentions of being underwater suggesting that Sultanov may feel the weight of expectation set by his acclaimed artistic lineage. Although, being that his first language isn’t English, we should probably forgive any verbal simplicity and take the songs on face value. After all, it’s unashamedly throwaway pop that permeates almost every track of this debut album.
We can also forgive the Azerbaijani for wanting some help in the studio, which comes in the shape of Grammy-winning co-writer and producer Andy Wright, who brings the same magic dust that he’s sprinkled on cuts for the likes of Annie Lennox and Mick Hucknall over the past few decades. Wright pitches the tone right from the start, mimicking the sound of Australian 80s-worshippers Empire Of The Sun on opener Keep Me Running and Touched, and continuing the theme throughout. Sultanov himself should take credit for vocally conducting each song in the same vein, channelling Tony Hadley on What Lies Beneath, for example.
From there on in, it’s classic 80s pop at its best, exemplified by spiky INXS-esque Television and catchy second single Break Free. At times the retro production efforts are a tad dated (How You Gonna Know?), and the token anthemic ballad 50 Fathoms Down sounds like something that Gary Barlow might’ve written and rejected, but on the whole this is a strong first effort from the Moscow-based artist.
Although the whole album is laced with orchestral undertones, it still comes as a slight surprise when lush piano-and-strings instrumental Can’t Change blossoms into the album’s delightful close. We can only imagine that Sultanov’s already written the script to a moving film where this song is its fitting exit music.
Extra-curricular activities notwithstanding, this is a cohesive and enjoyable debut that introduces Sultanov as a credible recording artist. At this rate, he won’t need to do anything else.
Verdict: Made for 80s throwbacks pining for more new synth-pop