Saturday, 29 March 2014

Darlings Review


The strangest thing about Kevin Drew's new solo album, Darlings, is that it isn't very strange. After all, this is the man partly responsible for Broken Social Scene, a band that managed  to be nothing if not consistently interesting. Although on face value BSS had a lot of typical indie pop going on, there was always an element of creepy sexuality to them, most evident when the vocals were oddly distorted, and their voices became both unnervingly innocent and yet overwhelmingly knowing.

So one would not be amiss to expect a certain bizarre beauty from Drew's second solo outing, particularly when it was revealed that the tracks had names like "Body Butter" and "Good Sex."

Sadly though, the fact of the matter is Drew by himself has become a very different beast. There are still snatches of who he once was when surrounded by his bandmates - "Mexican After Show Party" definitely has the slightly goofy, slightly sexual beauty of BSS' "Shampoo Suicide." But on the whole, this is an album of surprisingly underwhelming songs. Drew's voice has been put front and centre - there is little of the throbbing reverb that characterises the work he has done in the past. There's really nothing else to listen to but the man singing: the instrumentation behind him is not designed to hold your entire attention.

But this is, in essence, the problem: Drew's voice on this album sounds nothing like what one would expect. In fact, to enjoy this record the best, I would encourage you to imagine that this is a release by a totally new artist: one who has had nothing to do with Broken Social Scene, or the Drew we knew in the past.

On Darlings, for the most part, Drew spends his time singing in the upper register. Although I'm not one to resist change, this variation is so surprising, you only really get used to it by Darlings' sixth or seventh track. Variety is the spice of life, but it's still disturbing to hear a drawl you know so well flung all the way up to the attic, breaking its way into a show-stealing croon more suited to the contestants on The Voice.

Make no mistake: Drew is a 'good' singer, definitely, but by pushing himself higher than he has ever gone before, he ends up sounding like everybody else. The muttering, deep incantations of BSS has transformed into a self-important warble.

Drew has - either on purpose, or by unfortunate accident - stripped away the things that separated him from the crowd. The whole album could easily be a collection of underproduced BSS B-sides. Each song has a hint of greatness, but it's never enough to make you fall in love. It's like a chance encounter with a beautiful stranger on the bus - perhaps they turn and comment on the book you're reading, but the conversation never amounts to anything after that.

All that said, I don't by any means want to make it sound like this is a bad album. It isn't. "Good Sex" is Darling's highlight, with its insistent keyboard refrain, and Drew's disarming lyrics. It manages to be the kind of song you could either dance to, or bury your head in your pillow and cry to, which is no mean feat. But even then it never totally overwhelms you. It's great when it's going, but when it's over, it doesn't leave a whole lot behind.

No, don't get me wrong: I still recommend giving this one a listen. It's the kind of album you might want to put on when you come home from a party on a Friday night. You're still feeling pretty buzzed; you've had a good time; but you can't shake that sudden, strange, lonely feeling. It's that kind of album: it has a tenderness to it, a kind of indie pop warmth, only just masking a deeper sadness.

It's just not amazing. Even less than that, it's just not great. It's a solid album, but the world is full of solid albums, and from a man with such a strong track record, one is still left wanting more.

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