Like a masked superhero, Lewis Capaldi is leading a double life. On record, and almost invariably in the number one spot in the charts, he’s the saddest man in pop, longing for someone who isn’t around anymore either through dumping or death. But on social media and on film, he’s a walking fart joke, telling Graham Norton that he writes songs for others under the pseudonym “Anita Jobby” and explaining to YouTube star Amelia Dimoldenberg that he has recently experienced “sharting”.
It must be exhausting. What if he mixes up the two personas, accidentally posting heartbroken poetry on Twitter and writing a hit song about his testicles?
So far it seems mostly to be working well. As with James Blunt, a crude, funny online presence will apparently allow an audience to tolerate more musical slushiness than they otherwise might. But in the new Netflix documentary about him the cracks are showing, as he wrestles with anxiety and worsening Tourette’s symptoms while his sales figures rocket. On this second album, the general heartache that he tends to sing about becomes more specific on The Pretender, where he confesses: “I can wear a million faces ‘cause I don’t like the one underneath,” and How I’m Feeling Now, which finds him singing: “No sense of self but self-obsessed/I’m always trapped inside my f***ing head.”
He’s following up his stratospheric debut, the five-times platinum Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent. It’s traditional for second albums to spend much of their time whining about the loneliness of living life on the road while coping with vast wealth and adoration, which usually earns very little sympathy. But because in pop star terms, Capaldi is the “odd one out” (his words) and operates his career like a conman waiting to be exposed as a wedding singer, it’s easier to believe that the comedy Y-fronts are a shield concealing someone who’s genuinely struggling.
That means that although these songs do nothing new – the back-and-forth piano notes of Wish You the Best, Haven’t You Ever Been in Love Before and Any Kind of Life all strongly recalling his huge hit Someone You Loved – any cynicism is undetectable. He manages a welcome change of pace on Heavenly Kind of State of Mind, and visits the Eighties in a way that’s crying out for a Top Gun shirtless beach volleyball homage on Leave Me Slowly. There’s nothing to scare his adoring fanbase, so he’ll be laughing – and crying – all the way to the bank.