A year after he reached the Britain’s Got Talent final, Calum Scott released a yearning, stripped down cover of his audition song, Robyn’s Dancing on My Own.
Though Calum’s cover dropped quietly on an independent label, it soon snowballed to become a number two hit and the UK’s most-downloaded track of summer 2016. In the process, Calum landed a major label record deal, but also dilemma: how should he follow up a hit single that was, well, completely unexpected?
It might have been tempting to try another cover of an under-appreciated modern pop classic: Carly Rae Jepsen’s Run Away with Me, maybe. But instead, he has taken his time and made a proper, grown-up pop album that will appeal to fans of Paloma Faith, Sam Smith and Jess Glynne.
Only Human offers a classy assortment of soulful stompers (Give Me Something, Come Back Home, Good to You), gospel-tinged ballads (Only You, You Are the Reason), and more reflective downtempo moments (Not Dark Yet, Hotel Room). Dancing on My Own actually appears here twice: first in Calum’s original acoustic version, and later in its more danceable Tiesto remix.
Hull-born Calum came out as gay shortly after Dancing on My Own became a hit, and it’s not hard to detect a queer subtext in songs like Give Me Something and Rhythm Inside, whose lyrics tackle themes of unrequited love and emotional openness.
The album’s opening track, If Our Love Is Wrong, is more overtly queer. “It’s in my DNA, suffocating just to fit in,” he sings. “Why do I care what people say?” But the album’s most touching moment is probably Only You, a slow-building epic on which Scott sings about being bullied as a kid “just for being who I am”, then thanks the best friend who “could see that I was hurting” and “cared to understand”.
Only Human isn’t a flawless debut. The nostalgic, Gaelic-sounding ballad What I Miss Most sounds like a transparent attempt to ape recent Ed Sheeran hits Galway Girl and Castle on the Hill; honestly Calum is much more compelling when he’s just being himself.
Some of his other songs are pockmarked by clichéd lyrics about climbing every mountain and swimming every ocean. But throughout, there’s no faulting his rich, emotional vocals and commitment to his material.
This is an impressive and affecting debut that proves there’s much more to Calum Scott than a kinda surprising Robyn cover.
Gay Times gives Calum Scott’s Only Human – ★★★★☆
If you’d like to hear Calum Scott perform new songs from his debut album for the first time at an exclusive show, you can get tickets for Gay Times presents Intimate & Live with Calum Scott here.