All The Little Lights is the fifth album by British singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg under his stage name Passenger. Given that Passenger is one of my favourite artists I waited for this album eagerly and with high hopes, and I was not disappointed.
The album follows the trend set by Passenger in his fourth album, Flight of the Crow, which comprises a variety of collaborations with Australian artists and invokes many images of the cheerful vibrancy of the country. All The Little Lights continues this upbeat tone without including quite so many other artists, instead drawing from the style of Passenger’s first album, Wicked Man’s Rest, when Rosenberg was joined by a four-piece band, to incorporate more backing instruments and provide a more varied experience than either of Passenger’s heavily acoustic albums (Divers & Submarines, Wide Eyes Blind Love).
The first few songs start the album off slowly. Things That Stop You Dreaming has a melancholy sound with determined and defiant lyrics, while Let Her Go is a regretful song about that old adage of not knowing what you have until you lose it. Staring At The Stars then ups the pace, providing a healthy, critical look at life in Passenger’s own cynical way, before blending seamlessly into the title track, which seems almost to be a way for the artist to reminisce about his own life and the regrets therein.
The Wrong Direction marks a change in the tone of the album. Lively and quirky, it harks back to older songs such as Walk You Home, notable for its cheeky lyrics and vigorous beat. Here Passenger is suitably cynical, though in such a way that you can’t help but grin, as he makes a joke out of his own misfortunes and induces the need to dance at the same time.
If the first half of the album was often sad and regretful, the second is generally happier, looking back more fondly. We first see this in Circles, where the artist recalls growing up with his best friend, and then in Keep On Walking, where the realisation is reached that it is better to just go with the flow than try to plan everything. Patient Love is a sweet song about waiting for someone, not dissimilar to several songs from Wicked Man’s Rest.
The next two tracks see Passenger turn to criticising the present day. In Life’s For The Living he is almost angry, using some brilliant imagery to get his points across as he expresses his dislike for people who waste their lives or always adhere to “the system” – Passenger spends most of his time busking and connecting with his fans, eschewing the typical rock-and-roll lifestyle, and here he is clearly saying you should go your own way or just not bother. Holes is on a similar theme, explaining that it is useless to worry about things over which you have no control. Instead, it is important to be resilient and carry on; he gives the example of a man whose house burned down only to realise that “when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.”
However, in the last serious song of the album, Feather On The Clyde, we are exposed to feelings of helplessness and loneliness, of being carried along by fate, and we see that there are doubts under the defiant surface after all. The artist is only human, and the companionship he longs for earlier in the album has not left him entirely.
The final track, I Hate, is a live version of a song that, quite simply, details everything Passenger takes issue with, from racist jokes to the X Factor. This one is bound to elicit a few smiles (or even cheers) and really brings the album’s critical look at life to its peak.
Overall, All The Little Lights is a beautifully sung and well put-together album. For newer listeners it provides a good mixture of songs, showing off all that Passenger has to offer, while older listeners will recognise it as sitting nicely with his previous work and continuing trends. The lyrics are cleverly written, the faster melodies lively, the acoustic moments tender. And the message is clear: do your own thing, and don’t let your regrets stop you from moving on and enjoying life.