I must admit, I listened to this album for the first time on Friday with a feeling of trepidation. The Shires set such a high standard for themselves with ‘Brave’ that I thought I might be slightly underwhelmed by the follow up. Particularly after the release of two new singles, ‘Beats To Your Rhythm’ and the title track ‘My Universe’ which really pushed the country boundaries and left me wondering if Ben and Crissie were going down the pop route. Not terrible songs by any means (very catchy and infectious, actually) but just not the style I have come to know and love from The Shires. Thankfully, having heard the full project, they have restored my faith and on the whole, this is a very commendable release.
A huge stand-out on the album is the stunning ‘Other People’s Things’ which was co-written with the immensely talented Nina Nesbitt. A gorgeous depiction of a collection of memories made in a relationship that mean nothing to anybody else but have so much personal value. “If anyone else opened this box they’d see for themselves it’s just a pile of old junk. But to me everything in there is a secret memory, it’s all that I have left of you and me. But to anyone else it’s just other people’s things”. It’s backed by a stunning piano melody, and Ben and Crissie’s immense vocal delivery is enough to give you goose bumps. This is a return to the style of ‘Brave’ and ‘Black and White’ which is where The Shires are certainly at their best. Awesome.
‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ is a close second favourite. It’s probably the most ‘country’ on the album and it does exactly what it says on the tin; a lovely tale of a girl growing up with a great love and admiration for her father. “Used to wrap my hands around his little finger, turns out he was wrapped around mine. Says you can be anything you want to in this great big world but I’m always gonna be Daddy’s little girl”. The song is a progression through life, starting as a young child then moving on to adolescence – “he might not hold my hand no more but he’ll always hold my heart”. It really is a masterclass in country song writing and it’s a joy to listen to. This one will be on repeat for a while.
‘Not Even Drunk Right Now’ is almost ‘Friday Night’ part two! A pop-infused foot tapper with very Maren Morris-like instrumentation. A fun, care-free track that will connect superbly with festival/concert audiences. After hearing the album a few times, this is the song I usually find myself singing all day. “It’s all you-ooo-ooo-ooo” (however annoying it can be when you can’t get it out of your head!) is an incredibly infectious hook and this becomes a really enjoyable track after a few listens.
I was really looking forward to hearing ‘Drive’ after watching them perform it on the ‘Brave’ tour last year. Written with Kip Moore and his bass player Manny Medina, this sees The Shires experimenting with a slightly edgier, rocky sound, and it works a treat. The backing isn’t too dissimilar to some of Kip’s own material and his influence is clear throughout. ‘Save Me’ was another new track I heard ahead of release as they performed it at Cornbury Festival this year, and the album cut is superb. It gives Crissie a real opportunity to showcase her vocal prowess, and the power in her voice here is incredible.
‘Tonight’ proved to be the real anthem from the debut album, as we saw on multiple occasions with the ‘splitting the crowd in half’ routine! On this album, it will surely be ‘A Thousand Hallelujahs’ which is becoming one of my favourites. It’s got so much energy with that pounding backbeat throughout and the chorus is about as anthemic as it gets. Such an uplifting track that will no doubt be considered for the next single release; it’s truly one of those ‘sit up and listen’ tracks that grabs your attention from the outset.
On the whole, this is another very impressive album from, in my opinion, the best country act in the UK. Having spoken to them at HMV in Birmingham at their CD signing, there’s nobody more deserving of the success than Ben and Crissie. The time and respect they have for the fans is wonderful to see, and their talent can never be questioned. The quality of the production, song writing and vocal delivery is slick and polished throughout and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Worth 45 minutes of anybody’s time.