Sound — 8
Among the slew of singer-songwriters that were praised in 2004 once James Blunt went stratospheric, the more organic, talented performer to emerge was Joseph Arthur. The American had been around since 1997, having been mentored by Peter Gabriel, and despite 2004's Our Shadows Will Remain' earning him commercial acclaim, since then he has remained the perennial bridesmaid of the music world, his tracks, most notably In the Sun' (used in things as varied as Davidoff adverts and a scene in Scrubs), earning praise from Chris Martin and Michael Stipe rather than the public. After a sabbatical from making albums following two patchy collections with his backing band, Arthur is sensibly trading under his own name again, and The Graduation Ceremony' is a delicate, slow-burner of a record with Arthur's haunting harmonies and mellow guitar work in full flow. Perhaps more restrained than before, nevertheless, from opener Out on a Limb''s cavernous beauty to the stand out epic Almost Blue', The Graduation Ceremony' manages to be both minimal and lush, textured but brittle. Arthur's hushed vocals have the chance to echo on lovely acoustic moments such as Watch Our Shadows Run', whilst the added layers on Over the Sun' provide a strong impact.
Lyrics — 9
Arthur has always been a rather gifted lyricist, and 'The Graduation Ceremony' sees him at his sharpest since 'Nuclear Daydream'. Heck, this album even could equal 'Our Shadows Will Remain' for its understated, sterling beauty. Opener 'Out on a Limb' has the irresistable lyric 'time won't run away from me / like you always do', hushed out in Arthur's gravelly yet tender tones. 'Over the Sun' and its sentiment 'the sun will fade away' has the grandeur of an Arthur classic in the 'Honey and the Moon' and, of course, 'In the Sun' vein. Arthur's lyrics deal with unrequited love, loss and depression, but with his delivery it packs even more power.
Overall Impression — 8
It has been a long time since Arthur last won critical plaudits (2006's Nuclear Daydream' to be precise), but once more he has created another rich, lean collection of beauty. It's a shame that Arthur will never achieve the commercial success his peers think he deserves, and of course, he deserves it, but for now, his gift is a great secret. Ditching his backing band was the best thing he's done, as he's rediscovered his muse. ESSENTIAL TRACKS: 'Over the Sun' / 'Almost Blue' / 'Out on a Limb'