Album Review: Toby Jepson – Viewfinder

“Prolific” is one of the many words used to describe Toby Jepson. A quick glance at Viewfinder’s tracklist will show you that with its extensive twenty tracks. This collection of songs from Jepson’s back catalogue provides insight into his post-Ignorance is Bliss and pre-Wayward Sons musical journey.

Whilst it’s not a chronological order of his work, it’s never wanting for it. Instead, this serves as an album of its own right, full of peaks and valleys like any traditional studio release, simply by collating songs from his back catalogue. There’s plenty of familiar territory to be found in Viewfinder’s songs – nothing feels too left-field for Jepson if you’re aware of his musical lineage.

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And that’s one of the strengths of this collection – Jepson isn’t afraid to turn his nose up to any genre and as this will show, he’s dipped his toes into many different styles of rock and even dabbled in pop. It’s an interesting listen and always ready to take you into new territory. Likely the most familiar tracks found here will be “Crush” and “Just No Way” (Wayward Sons and Toseland, respectively). Lyrically, “Crush” is pretty much exactly as you’d hear it on Wayward Sons’ debut but instead of an up-tempo rocker, it’s an acoustic-driven number and much slower but still has the same nuance and passion behind it. Meanwhile, the keys-based “Just No Way” sounds pretty much the same as it did when Toseland covered it, the only difference being the person supplying the vocals (obviously).

Meanwhile, it’s the forays into the less traditional areas where some of the best tracks are like “Unwind” with its chunky power pop tones. Whilst it’s not full-on pop punk, it wouldn’t feel out of place on a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game from the turn of the century. Elsewhere, “Back in the Day” has the grimy, smoky sneer of early 70s Rolling Stones and the title track takes its cues from the more muscular blue rock tones of the same era like Bad Company and Led Zeppelin.

The wistful “Forgiveness” channels Queen’s “Sail Away Sweet Sister” both lyrically and sonically, and feels like a moving tribute to the original whilst maintaining its own identity as Jepson explores his own feelings on heartbreak. Of course, it’s not the only ballad found within and “Four Letter Word” examines love in all its forms.

Opener “Better Off Dead” is one of the straightforward rockers and nothing short of what you’d expect from Jepson when it comes to that territory. Much like the others found here, like “Motivated” and the fuzzy “Happy Ever After”, they’re fun and bouncy romps. Tucked away at the end are four unreleased tracks in the groove-laden “Little Bird”, the big ballad of “Overwhelming Me”, the jangly, sparkling “Losing Side” and the pop rocker of “Picking Up the Pieces” (think early/mid-2000s of Maroon 5, Razorlight etc).

Introspection and finding closure drive the back to back numbers of “Weight of the World” and “The Chosen One” but musically couldn’t be more different. Whilst the former is more acoustically-driven, the latter takes on a more upbeat complexity to it. Both are poppier moments, glossy but not overproduced, and the deft hand afforded to them serve them better than excessive tinkering would.

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Viewfinder provides a 15-year trip into Toby Jepson’s world from both a musical and lyrical standpoint. What keeps the album flowing through all the sub-genres is the quality of songwriting itself. Between questioning the human condition and experience, examining his own feelings, storytelling and putting himself in the shoes of other people, it allows him to connect and offer a level of authenticity only seen in the best songwriters. He explores and challenges what a rock song can and should be and allows fans and newcomers alike to (re)discover a great batch of songs whilst drawing a line under this period of his life.

Viewfinder is released on 12th March

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