On August 27th, Former Hero finally released his debut album, footpaths. The first full-length project from Mike Jones, footpaths takes the audience on a journey through the pain Jones feels in a way that connects him to other people experiencing the same pain. “With each new track he pens, Former Hero lifts a little more weight off his shoulders by channeling his frustrations into a melancholic intensity of resonant guitars, honest lyrics, and glimmering breaks in his soundscapes. ‘I use writing as a way to cope with a lot of the stresses the past few years have brought up’ he says, ‘specifically about love, depression, addiction, bereavement, and trying to become more comfortable as a queer dude who lives in a super sheltered part of the UK. I’m so proud of how the album represents all this.’
That provides a great sefue to talking about the album itself: the lyrics are the strongest part. That’s not to discount Former Hero’s musical abilities, but the lyrics on this project show just how powerful these songs are to their creator. The opening lines of “Let Me Frame,” the only lines of “Foxgloves,” and the entirety of “Gone Dream” prove that Jones has so much promise as a lyricist. They provide a deeper understanding of where he is in his journey for mental clarity, and they allow the listener to feel connected in a more profound way.
The musical elements of this project are as jumbled and crazy as the emotions Former Hero is trying to convey, and from an artistic standpoint, it makes perfect sense. From a consumer standpoint, it might not always work for an audience, but no one can fault an artist for always doing what they think is best to achieve what they want their art to achieve. The flow of this album is amazing, the lyrics are amazing, and some of the musical ideas, while not fleshed out as much as they could be, provide valuable insight into the trajectory Former Hero is about to be set on.
The centerpiece of the album has to be “Gone Dream.” While “Foxgloves,” the lead single, provided an excellent taste for what the project was going to sound like, “Gone Dream” is where Former Hero fully realizes their burgeoning potential. The guitar work is gorgeous, and while it might seem like an unnecessarily long song – it clocks in at eight minutes – every second is used to perfection. If there were a full album of songs like “Gone Dream,” Former Hero would be making a killing.
That’s not to say everything on this is perfect. It’s far from it. There are certain sound choices that don’t make much sense and are sometimes grating on the ears. The first track, “Let Me Frame,” is bogged down by electronic drum sounds that don’t suit the song and grate on the ears. Which is an absolute shame because the lyrics of “Let Me Frame” perfectly set up the album and give a sense of where Former Hero is at this point in his life.
As it stands, some of theses sonic choices are rather puzzling, especially considering the cohesion of “Gone Dream,” but, fair is fair: they get the point across that life is a struggle. Not everything is going to sound, look, or be “perfect.” Sometimes, like is hard. Life is a slog. And Former Hero has made it his goal to make life less alone for those who are finding it a hard slog. “Former Hero aims to be very open about the battles he’s fighting in hopes of giving others facing similar struggles something to relate to.” This statement of purpose is achieved on footpaths for sure.
To listen to footpaths is to envelop yourself in the mind of Former Hero, and that is more than can be said for plenty of debut album. There is so much promise here, and I hope everyone who reads this checks out footpaths in its entirety. Former Hero deserves the attention, and if he gets to where he deserves to be, the music will naturally improve along the way. This is an incredible first output, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.