True Believer is Australian singer-songwriter Michael Cullen’s sophomore release, and a long-awaited successor to his debut Love Transmitter.
Cullen variously describes his music as indie rock, indie pop and the left-field label “adult alternative”. I found the term “adult alternative” quite curious, sitting as it was between indie pop and indie rock, and so my interest was suitably piqued. Certainly, Cullen is a man who isn’t afraid to make all of his incredibly eclectic influences known, including the embarrassing ones – his bio even cites ABBA as one of his early influences. Thankfully, I could not detect any evident traces of ABBA in the songs.
The album is indeed incredibly varied, but Cullen’s voice is the glue that holds everything together. His baritone is suitably deep and dark, and gives the songs a unique direction. I must confess, however, that I’m not particularly a fan of the spoken word bits – the vocal delivery is jarring and doesn’t flow enough for my taste – even though perhaps that’s the point.
Album opener Black Dog would fit right in as part of a Western movie soundtrack, whilst Believer features an organ intro that very much reminds me of The Doors before taking a left-turn into goth rock territory. Damaged sounds like Massive Attack on a bad trip, and does a great job of dialing down the intensity a few notches before lead single Cha Cha D’Amour sinks into you with its dark yet infectious hook and driving bassline.
I Walk Alone is the only song on the album which I could single out as being weak, but things pick up again with I Never Knew – I especially love the guitar lick in the verse. Broken Horses, the most uptempo song on the album, brings the proceedings to a fitting end with its frantic drumming and rousing chorus.
Production-wise, the album has a warmth and saturation which really adds to the songs. The drums are tight and punchy and the bass is deep but extremely clear.
True Believer is a dark and haunting yet deeply satisfying rollercoaster ride which is almost “no filler, all killer”. Cullen delivers the goods with style, taking some interesting twists that work really well and cementing his reputation as an artist to look out for.