'Angels and Queens'
It feels like it’s been such a long time since Elton John announced that ‘Love and Hate in a Different Time’ - the lead track from Gabriels' debut EP (2021) was “one of the most seminal records of the last ten years” , Since then, each glimpse, each single that has led to the full album proper has just added to the drama. And as anyone who loves this band will attest, drama is just something that Gabriels excel at!
That drama, that seductive soul, those heavenly arrangements that seem to hark back to a bygone era are the creation of the three people at the core of Gabriels. As well as the raised-on gospel stop-you-in-your-tracks voice of Jacob Lusk, there’s the classically trained composer Ari Balouzian (both Californians) and producer/keyboardist Ryan Hope (from Sunderland, the band is named after St. Gabriels Avenue, the street on which he grew up). Helping to add some further R&B sparkle into the production is Beyonce and Kendrick cohort Sounwave.
‘Angels and Queens’ opens with the plucked strings of ‘Offering’ the cinematic swoop of strings and a tale of a love gone sour (‘Id walk on broken glass/damn near sold my ass/gave you the shirt off my back…), Lusk's voice is tender, aching, and passionate. So utterly believable. There’s more emotional distress on ‘The Blind’ , all ominous percussive loops and Lusk in an accusatory mode, like the heart-breaking moment in a movie when you’re just hoping that the wronged person is going to have the courage to leave.
The title track is enticingly funky, with backing vocals that could easily belong to a long-lost Earth Wind and Fire song. It’s a demand for love and it’s such an elegant pop song. The tales of love and loss define this record, such as the exquisite ‘Remember Me’ (the title is self-explanatory) and the odd brilliance of ‘We Will Remember’ which deconstructs ‘The Way We Were’ and reassembles it, out Streisanding Streisand, the ad-libbing over a stripped-down beat and solo piano for the final minute of the song.
The revised version of ‘Love and Hate in a Different Time’ may underwhelm slightly, but as the band has explained, the original would not have worked in the context of this album… and there’s no way that this album could exist without the song that defined them. And although ‘Glory’ is the only moment here that veers towards the formulaic, it is the staggering ‘Great Wind’, that will move you in a way that modern pop songs really shouldn’t. It is a warning to tell the person that you love that you do love them. It’s important, and Lusk’s amazing vocal tour-de-force will convince you. Tell them now and that Jacob told you to do it!
‘Angels and Queens’ is an extraordinary album. It has been worth the wait and it may be the best debut that you hear this year. Elton, as he so often is, was totally correct.