The long-waited debut album A Place We Knew by Sydney singer-songwriter Dean Lewis, encapsulates the beautifully sad, indie-folk, lost love sound that found him such success with his debut single ‘Waves’ back in 2017.
The lead single ‘Be Alright’ scored number six in this year’s triple j Hottest 100, which sent listeners (at least at my house party) into an epic, day-drunk embrace amongst strangers, trying not to cry as they belted out the eternal words: “I know you love her but it’s over mate / doesn’t matter put the phone away / it’s never easy to walk away / let her go, it’ll be alright.”
‘Be Alright’ was a perfect choice for a teaser to the album, letting listeners know what they were in for: a bloody tear jerker.
Each of the 12 songs on A Place We Knew follows a specific formula: soft guitar, anecdotes about love and a subtle build up to an intense chorus that either makes you want to sing while speeding down the highway or cry in a dark room. But Dean’s raw and vulnerable voice preaching tragic but relatable lyrics means that the formula works without becoming tired.
Sound-wise, there are parallels to Vance Joy and Ed Sheeran, with rhythmic acoustic guitar, driving drum beats, and the use of brass for impressive layered choruses. Lyrically however, Dean Lewis has a serious advantage. His voice has boyish charm while establishing a heartfelt pain, and being that he is 31 singing about heartbreak most of us feel as teenagers, his lyrics have a maturity and eloquence we maybe aren’t as used to in the sad-acoustic-love-song genre. Potentially contributing to the authenticity of his song-writing is that many of the choruses on A Place We Knew are dialogic. ‘Hold of Me’, ‘Be Alright’, ‘Chemicals,’ and ‘Stay Awake’ all lead into the chorus with “and you said”, “and my friend said” or something similar, before building the song around conversation which implies some actual truth behind the lyrics.
Just over the half way mark of the album, I thought I’d make it through without feeling any genuine heartache. While I can really appreciate the subtleties of his writing to tell the story, like “Radio’s playing songs for me and you / Chasing Cars reminds me of nights in your room” from ‘7 Minutes’, it wasn’t until track seven ‘Chemicals’ that I felt genuine sadness at the circumstances Lewis portrays.
In the bridge, he recalls his relationship falling apart in the early hours of the morning with the lines “It’s 3AM in the back of a cab / And I am begging on my knees / Don’t go, won’t you stay? / I can’t stand to watch you walk away from me”. If you listen to that and don’t even slightly tear up, I recommend seeing the doctor for an ultrasound because you may be missing a heart.
Another absolute puller of heartstrings, ‘Time to Go’, confirmed my Vance Joy/Ed Sheeran inspo theory. If I am remembered for one thing in this life, it is that I am very good at identifying chords in songs. However, it does get in the way of a good comedy show when Rich Hall is singing about ‘Fur on a Stick’ and all I can hear is Paul Kelly’s ‘How to Make Gravy’. The same goes in this song, as the opening of ‘Time to Go’ is shared by the other heartstring puller ‘Georgia’ by Vance Joy.
Source: YouTube (Vance Joy)
As for lyrically, the chorus definitely emanates some 2011 Ed Sheeran realness, with effortless words fitting together in a perfect rhythm: ‘’Cause I can’t get you out of my mind / ‘Cause nothing is true, and no one is you / And nothing at all ever feels right / You’re caught in my head, you’re stuck in my mind /I’m trying my best to say my goodbyes.”
If you’re still not crying, I can give you the number of a really good Sonographer.
As we wind up the album, ‘Don’t Hold Me’ further confirms my Ed Sheeran hypothesis: those palm-muted chords screaming +. ‘For the Last Time’ has some generic acoustic-pop melodies and accompaniment; but if you really think I’m still crying you’d be 100% right. The last few songs really shift the focus from Lewis being the heart-broken to the heart-breaker. The final song, ‘Half a Man’ ditches the formula we heard for the first 11 songs, replacing the soft acoustics with sombre broken piano chords and layered harmonies, giving off some Kodaline vibes.
Despite the sometimes generic and predictable structure of the songs, A Place We Knew is a captivating and emotionally evoking album. The lyricism is clever, well-articulated and perfectly placed. It makes you feel all kinds of feelings deep in your gut, just like a good album about lost love should.
More than anything, it makes me never, ever want to go through a break up again. But it’s comforting to know there is a perfect backing track for your young adulthood heartbreak.