Review Summary: A good, solid pop album from a good, solid pop artist.
I've had a deep-seated distrust of the pop music industry for some time now. In fact, I may even be a bit prejudiced towards the genre (in so far as one can be biased against a form of music); but truth be told, it's difficult to not be somewhat wary of the subculture which is single-handedly responsible for swamping our radiowaves with songs that are - at their base-level - completely indistinguishable from one another. The fact that it probably doesn't take very much to become a "good" pop artist makes it even more underwhelming: all one really needs is some above-average vocals, decent looks, and an array of songwriters trained in the art of hook-writing. For everything else, there's AutoTune.
That said, I will (rather grudgingly) concede that there are some really good pop artists out there: a few actually try to stand out from the mediocre rest, and have a real honest-to-God emphasis on formal artistic qualities (as opposed to pure unadulterated craftsmanship). Also to their great credit, these individuals might even attempt to use the impressive array of production technology at their disposal as an actual and legitimate instrument of music. All these virtues - when combined with some simply impeccable/unique vocal work - make these albums and their respective artists a guilty pleasure that even the most ardent of thrash metal fans may end up admitting to having occasionally perused (think Lady GaGa).
Which brings me nicely onto the subject of Darren Hayes' first solo album, Spin.
Spin - I will tell you now - is well and truly a pop record, and thus comes absolutely loaded with simple hooks, catchy vocal transitions, and consistent rhythmic elements within songs of a traditional mainstream structure. However, it is also a bit of a throwback to the good old days of pop (again, in so far that pop can have a "throwback"): it doesn't load itself with two-chord guitar "riffs" nor pretend to be hip by having numerous "contributions" from guest rappers - as is painfully wont these days. The influences of Hayes' earlier days with Daniel Jones (as the now-defunct Savage Garden) are also clear for all to see - Spin departs only very slightly from the traditional pop structure of Savage Garden, with the only significant auditory differences coming in the form of Hayes' dabbling in some orchestral work and the usage of heavy programming to infuse the album with a grittier R&B vibe.
The end result is a compendium of impeccable production and solid arrangements that reflect Hayes' confidence in his newly-fashioned product. Being comfortably seated within the safety zone also allows the album to commence with an infectious ease, and this results in the opening numbers of "Insatiable" and "Strange Relationship" becoming vividly sensuous mid-tempo tracks which work surprisingly well together. As the album progresses, the rich Latin feel created by the opening suite is slowly removed and replaced with synth-driven uptempo numbers like "Heart Attack" and "Spin". On these songs, the exuberance is every bit as infectious as Hayes intended them to be, with groovy reverb beats constantly pounding away at the listener's self-enforced restraint against gyrating along to the music. Undoubtedly, the most effective proponent of this philosophy is the delightful mid-album track entitled "Crush (1980 Me)", which features Hayes unabashedly putting up a consciously campy homage to the 1980s with smoothly-delivered lines like "Cyndi Lauper/Jackson/Simon Le Bon/I put Eurythemics on/Poppin' and Lockin' in the U.S.A./Day Glo sweater tied around my neck/Studded denim/Big hair/Acid Wash/Rubik's Cube/My Boom Box"; it all ends up being very effective, and - most importantly - incredibly endearing.
Like any good pop album worth its salt, Spin also packs quite a few power ballads. It is here that the album sounds the most like another Savage Garden release (not that that is necessarily a bad thing), particularly as ballads were undoubtedly Hayes' forte back when he was still flanked by Daniel Jones. As a result, Spin thus finds itself roiling in rather copious amounts of radio-friendly numbers such as "I Can't Ever Get Enough Of You" and "I Miss You" - which have undoubtedly caused many a teenage boy and girl to scrawl lyrics like, "I guess I miss you beautiful/These three words have said it all" all over their scented notebooks. As works of art these songs are nothing truly special; however they do have one redeeming quality: as a pop balladeer, Darren Hayes is probably second to none. Although it's something of an old chestnut now, it still bears repeating that his voice is breathtakingly beautiful in all its vulnerability, and is capable of producing as good a falsetto as one can find this side of the century - it is truly a voice worth listening to.
At the end of the day, Spin provides everything that you'd expect from a pop album. While reasonably bold in terms of style, it is very careful not to over-do things, and Hayes does not experiment any more than is absolutely necessary. Not too paradoxically, this results in a very coherent piece of work that stays remarkably consistent throughout, with an apparent single theme of sound constantly at work along the album's run-time of slightly over an hour. However, there is one significant complaint that can be made, which is on the fact that several songs possess unnecessarily long fade-outs that add no real musical value - and are a driving hazard as listeners fumble with their CD players to skip to the next track. But that's splitting hairs, really - especially as there are no straight duds or filler tracks on Spin. In short, there is plenty to like about the former Savage Garden frontman's visibly earnest effort at going solo; it will definitely please fans of his former work, and all those simply looking for a good, solid pop record.
Isn't it truly amazing what an artist can achieve when he or she decides to focus on the simple things, and then does them well?
Author's Note: This review can also be found on my personal blog (at the address http://snuffleupagush.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/your-problems-dont-exist-when-music-feels-like-this/).