I suppose some people were sad a few years ago when Savage Garden broke up, but most quickly got over it. Known for their icky yet classic love songs and the annoying falsetto of singer Darren Hayes
, memories of the duo quickly faded. That's why hardly anyone was excited about Darren's solo career, which he started quickly after Savage Garden's demise. He released the album "Spin", using the sexual ballad "Insatiable" to try to get people interested. The single and its successors had moderate success, but left the masses convinced that there was no hope left for the Australian crooner.
Now, after a few years of introspection, he is back with his second solo effort, "The Tension And The Spark". It's the result of spending months in his home in San Francisco writing and producing. Instead of the guitar pop that accompanied his vocals in the past, he decided to pursue a more electronic route, bathing the tracks in digital beats and bits, creating an artificial sound that still reminds you of an ocean or a forest. It's really quite mesmerizing. The change of direction is already apparent in the haunting opening track, 'Darkness'
. It enchants you with an electronic, melodic beat, and frogs croaking in the distance. I know, I was surprised as well when I heard the frogs, but they're there. Vocally Darren has also improved, as he is using his lower register more often, which is just amazing on a song like this. He emotes the depressing song really well.
Speaking of depression, he is really autobiographical on this record and made sure not to hold back any inner demons. In the ballad 'Unlovable'
, for example, an ending relationship reminds him of his bad childhood. "You make me feel like my father never loved me, you make me feel like my mother she abandoned me", he claims. His lyrics and emotions are touching and convincing. That's also something you will notice, this album is just brilliant lyrically, especially for a pop album. Darren's always had a way with words (those ballads weren't successful for no reason) but he has outdone himself this time.
It's not all depression and sadness though. There is of course the first single 'Popular'
, which is frighteningly different from the rest of the album. In the song he makes fun of pop artists, claiming he's willing to sleep his way to the top and be popular. Though the song is by far the poppiest you will encounter on this record, it's still quite good. Other more upbeat tracks are 'I Like The Way'
, a song about the physical aspect of attraction, and 'Hero'
, a brilliant, catchy tune about the negative aspects of being on a pedestal and being idolized.
Unfortunately, like any other album, there are some aspects that make "The Tension And The Spark" weaker than it could have been. Most songs drag on a little bit too long, as if he was unsure how to end them properly. His trademark falsetto is also still there, though not as overused as in the past. This was always one of his most polarizing qualities, so if you've always hated his voice, it's doubtful this set of songs will change your mind. Another thing that bothers me, though I don't know if it qualifies as a negative aspect, is that some songs are so good that the others kind of fade in their brilliance.
To conclude, this record is the best pop album I have heard, and unlike many of you I am quite acquainted with the genre. I enjoyed Savage Garden's music before but it's nothing compared to this. You should at least give it a try. Sadly, since its release it has had little success, so it looks like it won't be released in the US any time soon. But even if Darren Hayes' career ends with this, he has no need to be ashamed.