Album Review: Allman Brown – Second Son

[Nettwerk; 2024]

Allman Brown loves his mother. Like really loves her. Not quite in a Norman Bates or Oedipus Rex way, but equally not a hundred miles off. He sings about her like a doting manchild, with an unsettling devotion that curdles the air in which his music plays. There’s nothing gross or actively repulsive on his new album Second Son that would make you think there was something incestuous going on, but his repeated affirmations and yearns are worrying: “I need your voice”; “The understanding in your eyes makes me want to cry”; “Soon we’ll be back together / Safe in your arms once again.” Something feels… wrong.

The obvious explanation is that these sentiments aren’t for his mother. The PR line will surely be that they are about and for his wife. But all the pity to her if so, because Brown delivers his banal, beige and boring words with such uncreased enthusiasm that it would truly be an affront to have the person you married sing about love the same way a child writes a birthday card to their grandparents. Brown exists on this precipice of tenderness, even relaying a story of the day of his birth on “1984” where – between Wikipedia history lessons of the titular year – he softly curses not being able to fix the turmoil his life would eventually dish out. “I wish that I could get back there / When we both had the chance to get it right,” he yearns with a misplaced desperation, seemingly confused about how much sway a newborn child has.

And Brown wants to be coddled badly. “Take me back to the days / You carried me pressed tight to your chest,” he rouses on “Take Me Back”. It’s little wonder then that when he’s singing about life on the road he not only uses the same language of needing his mother’s embrace (“Soon we’ll be back together / Safe in your arms once again”), he warbles with the kind of meniality only a mother could feign to be interested about. “Logging into the wi-fi, unpacking my bag,” Brown sings – and absolutely no one who happens to be listening cares at all. This is hardly music worth traveling the world to exhibit, so he could simply save himself and listeners the bother by staying at home.

Second Son doesn’t make liking Brown an easy task. Sure, his music is as neutral and inoffensive as concrete, easy enough to let play in the background of a brunch bar as it hopes at best to be mistaken for an Ed Sheeran song. Such tedious and mundane songwriting shouldn’t be left unchallenged though; songwriters shouldn’t be encouraged to churn out the musical equivalent of plain white bread. And Brown’s writing leaves a lot to be desired. It might be sufficient for a TV show (his songs have featured on a few over the years, including The Good Doctor and Suits), but in itself it edges on tedious. “I feel so weak but act so strong,” he laments wetly on opening track “Bad Blood” while “Sunlight & Cinnamon” follows through with its Yankee Candle scent-like title, offering syrupy nonsense about being “caught up in your magic”. 

And if it’s not painfully insipid then it’s veering on odd and patronising. The belittling “Breathe In, Breathe Out” has Brown describing someone going through what sounds like a panic attack or mental health crisis. Worry not, for he’ll “be waiting when you come back down”, suggesting he’s just left them to it. Elsewhere there’s a curiously threatening aura on “Your Nature” where he talks of “bones gently sinking to the ground” or on “Fire of Love” where he’s already picturing his death and how he’ll see his wife (or mother) “on the other side”. 

When he addresses his family history dead on, it feels more like airing dirty laundry rather than therapeutic insight, offering little more than a feeling of being “let down”. There might be something interesting to read into all this supposed “anger that burns” and how it is a “heavy weight” were it not for the simple fact it seems to have inspired absolutely no kind of considered introspection that couldn’t be stolen from a multipack of fortune cookies.
This is why it’s best to imagine that all the songs that aren’t titled “Mother” are actually about his mom. It’s weird, creepy, and unintentionally amusing to think lines like “The twinkle in your eye shines on me” are about his mother, but it’s near enough the only interesting thing to wring from Second Son. Sure, there’s some vaguely infectious gusto on tracks like “Take Me Back” and “1984”, and Mates of State vocalist Kori Gardner-Hammel adds a few welcome harmonies across the album, but this is music that has been done before and will be done again.

Faceless, featureless, and flavourless, Second Son is an album that offers such a small emotional signature it might as well be a blank piece of paper. Hell, its title even comes from a line in the final song “My Ordinary Life” where he shares the fact he’s “the second son of a second son” like it’s the solution to the Millennium math problem. It’s a damning example of just how boring Allman Brown is here. What would his mother think if she could hear him now?