[4_stars ]

After the success of his debut album Letters, a platinum selling record, Matt Cardle now enters the traditionally difficult second album stage of his career. The exposure and fame that being 2010’s X Factor winner brought was undoubtedly the driving force behind Letters’ success. Having recently moved record labels, Cardle was able to retain creative control over his music and now has the chance to establish himself as an accomplished artist with his second album The Fire

From the moment you press play, Cardle’s instantly recognisable voice hits you with a perfectly fitting lyric, ‘It’s a kick in the head…’ from the lead single ‘It’s Only Love’. Perfect, because it’s exactly what you get; a lively and upbeat track, underlining the transition Cardle has gone through.

Cardle freely admits that the breakdown of a recent relationship is the stimulus for a lot of content on The Fire. One might therefore expect a series of self-indulgent, desperate songs, but in fact what you get is a collection of thoughtful and emotional tracks that feel as though Cardle has poured his broken heart into them in the hope of finding therapeutic release.

It’s clear that each song has its own extremely personal meaning and as a whole, the album takes you on a journey through different stages of grief. Starting with a phase of dismissal, ‘The Fire’ and ‘For Every Heartbreak’ follow on from the opening track’s lively, rocky theme and you would be forgiven for forgetting the sombre foundations of the songs. From here, the album then takes a turn to a more reflective state; the hauntingly angelic vocals and slower tempo of ‘Water’ serving as a reminder to the listener of the heartache.

The tempo again changes and with that the mood too; we’re now plunged into a state of contrition and one of longing for what once was. ‘Anyone Else’ with its catchy rhythm and helpfully transparent lyrics being an example of just this. Throughout, there are constant reminders of the main reason behind all of Cardle’s success; his exquisite, and at times, breathtaking voice. Understandably, this might seem like a unsubstantiated claim, and if you do find yourself questioning these words, then I implore you to take a listen to ‘All that Matters’. This stripped down, moving song is a gleaming illustration of exactly this point, and in amongst a set of strong songs, is arguably the stand-out track of the album.

Building on the ideas of its predecessors, the penultimate track ‘Lately’, an uplifting and bright piece of music, leaves you with a feeling of release; an absolution from the pain perhaps. It’s not quite acceptance, not just yet, but it is certainly a sense of optimism and an idea that everything will be alright eventually. The album is completed by Cardle’s popular cover of ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. In many ways it is a fitting conclusion to an album that is focused on love (and the lack there of). This is a beautiful love song that can be interpreted as just that, or as a song about a love that once was, which has since ceased to exist – you can make your own mind up about how Cardle understands it. It is, as expected, elegantly presented and laced with Cardle’s own emotive touch.

When you take into account the fact that Cardle wrote the album and even recorded the instruments himself, it makes this an even more impressive follow up to his debut. This is an album full of growth and is a sincere account of a difficult subject. Despite the theme and fuel for the album being extremely personal, it is something that many will be able to relate to and find comfort in.

This is a record that will serve to please existing fans and potentially provide sceptics with enough evidence of Cardle’s credibility to change opinions. Energetic yet emotional, if given the chance, this album could get under your skin and spend a lot more time in your CD player than you originally might have thought.