It might be worth Laurence Fox considering his own career before he dismisses the concept of privilege. Specifically, his musical career. Fox has now released two albums: Holding Patterns in 2016, and A Grief Observed in 2019. The first of those peaked at No 89 in the chart, and spent two weeks in the top 100 before disappearing. The most popular track from Holding Patterns, Headlong, has had 150,000 plays on Spotify in the three and a bit years since its release: at the time of writing, that number wouldn’t get him into the Spotify Top 30 for today alone. Laurence Fox is not, by any metric of public interest, a successful singer-songwriter.
Yet when A Grief Observed was released, Fox had a promotional campaign you might normally associate with a major star. There were interviews in the Sunday Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express. He featured in the Q&A slot in, ahem, this newspaper’s Weekend magazine. He was interviewed by Lorraine Kelly on TV, and he performed on BBC Radio 5 Live. The result of all that publicity was that the album didn’t chart, and its most popular track, The Distance, has so far achieved 27,000 Spotify streams. A Grief Observed didn’t make a splash. It didn’t even make a ripple. It barely disturbed the surface.
It’s worth noting that none of those interviews and appearances were in music sections of the papers or on music programmes. Fox generated interest not because of the music he made, but because of what he is: the scion of an acting dynasty, prone to shouting, poshly. Hence why he was invited on to Question Time last week. The irony of last week’s kerfuffle is that only his own privilege put him in the position to deny its existence.
Fox’s music isn’t terrible. It’s wholly competent singer-songwriter stuff, if not awfully original. (Headlong is quite evidently his attempt to write a Coldplay song, and there are significantly worse Coldplay pastiches in the world.) Its single biggest weaknesses is Fox’s voice, which almost touches good, but is also just far enough away to be oddly disconcerting. He hits all the right notes (and in the right order), but it’s a blunt instrument, unvarying in tone and timbre. He always sounds as though he is making a point in a pub argument, whether he is professing his love, pondering the state of the world, or confessing his sins. Each song feels as though it should end with a shout of: “Three more, Geoff, and one for your good self.”
Fox appears to fancy himself in the mould of Cohen or Dylan – wise, but wearied by the world. He tries wordplay, but it is clumsy and unformed, a succession of imperfect rhymes: “This is the game / Stumbling on / But she still wants to play / Say it’s insane / To lose once again / And go back to the same game” (The Game). Say Goodbye, the opening song of A Grief Observed, takes a very Cohenesque melody, and has Fox on a film set, pondering his relationship with his co-star (“The other two members of the cast / A little Adam and Eve / Didn’t know that the film wasn’t about them.” No, it was about Laurence. It’s always about Laurence), but it’s less Chelsea Hotel than Chelsea Travelodge.
Both Fox’s albums, one would hazard a guess, are informed by his failed marriage to Billie Piper (the first was released just before the marriage ended), but the defining song for Laurence Fox as he is now fixed in the public eye – crusader for common sense, or halfwitted bigot, depending on your point of view – is The Distance, whose lyrics are pinned at the top of his Facebook page. Here Fox explains how you’re just not allowed to say anything any more: “The first to fall is laughter / Just to quell the unoffended / They seek to murder your opinion,” sings the man who gets repeated national newspaper interviews and TV appearances in which to express his opinion. “The light has been turned down on the age of reason / Replaced by blinding fires that burn wild across the region,” he sings, before offering a couplet that unwittingly summons the memory of Nigel Farage pledging to take up his rifle if Brexit were denied: “So I need you more than ever / Need your hands in this resistance.” It’s all a bit Captain Mainwaring, to be honest.
Laurence Fox’s music doesn’t sound as if it had to exist. It sounds as if it exists because he had the wherewithal to make it, and because his name meant there would always be people willing to give it a plug. The very definition of privilege, really.