Review Summary: A potentially brilliant electro-pop album ruined by too much, too much of everything.
Is Darren Hayes feeling OK?
The cherub-voiced former face of kitsch Aussie pop duo Savage Garden, Hayes has sort of fallen by the wayside in recent years. With Savage Garden, he racked up a staggering 23 million record sales during a brisk run of four years and two studio albums; so far, his two solo records have failed to measure even a tenth of that total. The second, 2004’s The Tension And The Spark
was a spectacular move for the singer, taking the electronic leanings of 2002’s Spin
well beyond its logical conclusion. So spectacular was it, indeed, that Sony soon agreed to terminate his contract; as it happens, the best thing that could possibly have happened to him. Free from major label pressures, he was free to indulge himself as an artist and fashion effortlessly uncool roller disco pop on his own clock, at his own expense.
So I ask: is Darren Hayes feeling OK?
Since his discreet split with Sony, electro-pop has inadvertently become pop’s most valuable commodity, and Darren’s ability to splice saccharine pop melodies with interesting beats and semi-complex electronic arrangements the musical equivalent of hot sh
it; an argument borne out by the fact he’s managed to create such a buzz about This Delicate Thing We’ve Made
, despite the complete absence of a major label, a twenty-five track, two-hour run time, and a suicidal lead single choice in ‘On The Verge Of Something Wonderful.’ It’s all but a cliché by now to say about double albums, but in this case it’s strikingly true: This Delicate Thing We’ve Made
could make a great single-disc album; as a double-album, it’s long, it’s indulgent and it’s a trying test of the goodwill generated by the record’s occasionally brilliant pop moments. More importantly, it begs the question: why would a professional pass up
While never particularly original, This Delicate Thing We’ve Made
’s various sounds are held together by generally strong melodies and Hayes’ enviable vocal range. His voice remains his most powerful instrument, and he uses it to great effect, appropriating Kate Bush’s high-pitched cry, Sinéad O’Connor’s banshee wail and Prince’s multi-part harmonies without losing the essential character which makes his voice so distinctive. Side two’s opener ‘The Future Holds A Lion’s Heart’ is an unashamed tribute to Bush- look to the title for a clue- an infectious pop number which melds clever Cure-like synthwork with a stripped-down Timbaland beat. Club hit ‘Step Into The Light’ is just as immediate, building from an intro of theatrical rock piano and choral vocals to a Madonna-like dance number complete with a techno beat 2 Unlimited would be proud of (only now they’ll be screaming “yes, yes, yes.”)
Disc one closer ‘The Great Disconnect’ stands well out despite the range of material on offer, a folky pseudo-protest song which aims for a campfire sing-a-long feel, and, despite the electronic accompaniment, does manage to emulate that type of intimacy. The lyrics, however, are embarrassing even by the standards of the American Idiot
-era political song. The sentiment is commendable, if not exactly interesting, but couplets like “You’ve got AIDS in Africa/You’ve got Paris in a new sports bra”
and Tom Cruise’s fave one-liner “You’ve got therapists to justify your behaviour”
would be filed under parody were it not for the almost pathetic sincerity with which they’re delivered. Likewise, the ‘Housequake’/’SexyBack’ mash-up ‘Bombs Up In My Face’ aims to emulate Sign ‘o’ The Times
’ stream-of-consciousness social narrative but, in the words of another critic, sounds like “what you might imagine Prince [would] sound like if you’d only ever had his music described by someone who hates music.”
The lyrics are a never-ending source of confusion; besides the badly-aimed political tirades, he inexplicably discusses quantum physics at several points, his lyrics obviously feeling the strain of having to keep up with his prolific musical output.
In the end, This Delicate Thing We’ve Made
is undone by too much, too much, too much of everything. Too many ideas aren’t allowed to compete with each other, meaning that the bad ideas are given just as much importance as the good ones. Tellingly, the album’s credits don’t list an executive producer: the very person whose function it is to rein in this kind of madness. Symptomatic of the album as a whole, the arrangements range from breath-taking to downright pitiful. Some, particularly those of returning producer Robert Conley, are a joy to behold: imaginative and modern-sounding, despite the retrospective nature of the material. Justin Shave’s arrangements are a little more mixed; he’s responsible for the innovative, bodhrán-like percussion of opener ‘Fear Of Falling Under’ and the Enya-like pizzicato strings of ‘Neverland,’ yet he must also share the blame for the godawful sped-up vocals on ‘Bombs Up In My Face’ and the dodgy vocoder rap that breaks up ‘Me, Myself & I.’ Still, he’s obviously a Prince fan, so props for that.