Seth Haapu: Seth Haapu (Sony)

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Seth Haapu: Bones
Seth Haapu: Seth Haapu (Sony)

Although this suffers a little, but only a very little, from the showcasing which often attends any debut -- and has one of those now customary intro tracks which seem de rigueur on hip-hop albums, here the tasty but too brief Hurly Burly -- this is one enormously impressive collection from a young man who would seem to have important people at his side (Sony, family, arranger Godfrey de Grut etc) and the world at his feet.

From Whanganui, Haapu did well enough on Australian Idol to come to great attention but what impresses here is how preternaturally gifted he seems: He wrote all these musically diverse songs, plays just about any keyboard you can name as well as guitars, and handles all the vocal arrangements.

He's opened for artists as diverse as Crowded House, Train and Adam Lambert to Eli Paperboy Reed -- and that somehow makes sense when you scan these enormously appealing songs.

He can throw off classy r'n'b pop with almost careless indifference -- the Fifties-style broody Talk Talk Talk which nods to George Michael and the excellent Stereotype with hints of old time rhythm and blues -- but on Bones the time-changing musical backdrop of piano, strange string parts, harpsichord and vocal harmonies are pure '67 psychedelic whimsy while up front he offers a breathy but vocally strong r'n'b ballad.

And Trashing My Heart has a wonderful doo-wop pop quality with a touch of musical hall horns. Hard not to dance along, or supress a smile when he does some faux-horns himself. You suspect someone in the family had albums of Elvis with the Jordanaires.

Haapu clearly knows not to take himself too seriously (and in pop that's a rare quality in itself), and only when he does -- the somewhat laboured and over embellished Keeping Count, some lyrical over-reaching where editing was required -- does this falter.

Silent Commotion, the most ambitious track here because it adopts a holy moment of ambitious lyric writing ("you will surely intervene in the quiet of my conviction") over a solo cello, just gets by on the skin of its teeth in the pretension stakes . . . but you come away with admiration for Haapu pulling off this and writing a melody which, with some refining, has the sound of a classic jazz songbook piece.

Around such serious stuff there is pure, handclap pop (Battery, Shadows) where Haapu connects with the dancefloor and much as the heart.

With the voice he has been gifted he could have done something in the post-Jackson/Timberlake vein -- and he could have done it easily -- but on material like the warm Fingertips a Pasifika feel drifts through, and Final Destination has a folksy feel with light honky tonk piano, albeit in both cases within the world of contemporary r'n'b.

Even if contemporary r'n'b isn't your thing and the vocal quivering which infects it is anathema you should put prejudice aside.

Seth Haapu has delivered a debut which had breadth and depth, pop and humour. And heart.

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