As most people who’ve been following the Asking Alexandria / Danny Worsnop debacle will be able to attest, it would be a miracle if the whole thing wasn’t meticulously planned from the off. For anyone who’s unaware, here’s a potted history of the whole ordeal – Worsnop leaves the band in early 2015 to focus on We Are Harlot, his classic rock project whose debut album was a lot better than it had any right to be. A year later, Asking Alexandria release The Black, their first album with former Make Me Famous frontman Denis Stoff at the helm, going back to their metalcore roots with middling results at best. During this time, Worsnop and AA guitarist Ben Bruce fire public pot shots at each other, only for Worsnop to reclaim his role of frontman late last year. If these really were entirely spontaneous events it certainly didn’t seem like – Asking Alexandria are thrust back into the spotlight after a waning couple of years, and Wornsop gets the most publicity he’s had in years, and just in time for his solo album The Long Road Home to be released. What a coincidence…
Because, let’s face it, without the name recognition, this album would go absolutely nowhere. It’s a country album for a start, meaning that immediately it only appeals to a very narrow subsection of the music buying populace. It’s not even that good of a country album either, taking the beige country-rock of Jason Aldean or Brantley Gilbert adorned with the genre’s many tiresome tropes and playing it completely straight. The thing that saves this album from being completely irredeemable is Worsnop himself, who has far more character and range in his vocals than either of the aforementioned artists, and gives this album at least a bit of variety. And in this album’s slower, more introspective moments, he does deserve a lot of credit, as there’s a tangible passion and vulnerability that comes through in his cracking, raspy voice, like on Prozac or Quite A While. Things get a bit more stupid in his other modes of swaggering party boy on Mexico and barroom raconteur on I Feel Like Shit and Don’t Overdrink It, but it never feels phoned in and there’s always a sense that Worsnop has a deep affinity for what he’s doing here, and that very prominent authenticity definitely breaks through.
But other than a few isolated examples, The Long Road Home fails to ignite any sort of excitement, mostly because of how formulaic its approach to country music is. Instrumentally it doesn’t lack texture, but the guitars have a similar tendency to plod particularly in the back half, and with the only striking feature being Worsnop’s voice, it can all bleed into one. Granted, exceptions are there, like the saunter of Mexico which has a nice sizzle, or the growl of I Got Bones, but the consistently mid-paced nature of this album doesn’t do it any favours in terms of being an exciting listen. The lyrics suffer a similar fate, drawing on such played-out topics as the drunken one night stand (I Got Bones and Midnight Woman), the mournful post-breakup laments (I’ll Hold On and Same Old Ending) and, of course, copious amounts of drinking. The lyrical template is so basic all over this album, a real shame seeing as when Worsnop gets a bit more personal and original in his writing, the results are almost staggeringly good. Prozac and High are the sort of sobering, deeply insular looks at Worsnop as a songwriter that are easily the most vulnerable he’s ever presented himself, while Quite A While‘s crisis of faith is a genuinely compelling arc, and Anyone But Me sees him examining his own flaws and going so far to end his own relationship because his partner deserves better. It’s a shockingly human moment from a musician whose frequently shrouded in a veil of superstardom, and if the entirety of this album followed a similarly mature, unflinching route, it would amount to a far better listen.
But that’s where the tone of The Long Road Home comes in, and if there’s one factor that sends this album crashing to the ground, it’s this. It’s easy to understand that Worsnop wants to cast his net out wide and do as much as he can with his country influences, but when they flip-flop around as much as they do here, it’s hard to take the whole thing seriously. Before the open confessionalism of Anyone But Me and High, there’s the saloon piano of I Feel Like Shit, a desperately stupid ode to being hungover whose transition into its following tracks is one of the biggest cases of tonal whiplash faced on any album this year. Don’t Overdrink It may even be worse though, a song that essentially throws the entire album off piste in its urges to avoid self-medication and drink in moderation which is, a) played simultaneously cartoonish and straight so it’s virtually impossible to decipher whether it’s to be taken seriously or not, b) completely superseded by Worsnop’s well-known personal life, and c) completely counterintuitive to virtually any other mention of alcohol on this album. It throws almost everything else off balance, as well as just being a really quite ridiculous song.
But here’s the thing – even with its numerous faults, The Long Road Home isn’t a terrible album. It’s not good either and it shows that as a country musician, Worsnop is still a very incomplete talent, but between some genuinely poignant, heartfelt moments and a vocal performance that’s one of the most impressive he’s ever put on wax, as silly as it sounds, there could actually be something here that could work. Hopefully next time something a bit better can come from this, and yes, there will be a next time; even now, there’s just enough worth caring about to warrant a second try. Only just, though.
For fans of: Jason Aldean, Chris Stapleton, Brantley Gilbert
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Long Road Home’ by Danny Worsnop is out now on Earache Records.