August 12, 2007

Review: Darren Hayes' This Delicate Thing We've Made



It's increasingly rare in these mercenary days of the music business to find an artist who comes to full fruition years into his/her career. Most artists are not allowed to develop; some are even dropped after their first single flops. The career artist has it in him or her to disappear, live a real life, regroup and express it all through new music. Darren Hayes has done just that with his third solo album, the beautifully titled This Delicate Thing We've Made.

In a Jungian feat of self-realization, Darren fulfills a promise that I think has only been hinted at in his earlier work. By now most Europop fans know that Darren was the lead singer in Savage Garden, a 90's band from the naive era when we still thought Rosie O'Donnell was straight. Darren was straight them too, sort of! Since that time, he has released two solo albums and, notably, fallen in love and married a man in that hazy golden moment in San Franscisco when same sex marriage was sanctioned.

There are 25 songs on Delicate. 25! Prince once said that in order to build a double album that won't cave in on itself, a musician must be willing to take risks, mix it up. Delicate succeeds not only because Darren does that, but because the songwriting and production (by Justin Shave) are so precise.

The album's centerpiece, Casey, makes me a teen all over again. A paean to the pivotal relationships of youth, Casey exemplifies the pleasures of a double album: Darren has the time to allow the 6 minute+ track to slowly blossom with longer instrumental passages. The bass beat doesn't really come in until minute 3. The song is divided into sections and when you think it's about to end at 4:43, alongs comes a beautiful synth coda that adds to the grandeur.

The popera How To Build A Time Machine, with its Kate Bush-like chants ("They're running down the halllll!"), emphasizes the album's theme of time travel. Listen close: a wooden ship keeps appearing in the lyrics, floating above London and the oceans, at various points during the album. Perhaps a metaphor for breaking free?

A theme of escape is all over this album, particularly in the aforementioned Casey and the slamming opener for Disc 2, The Future Holds A Lion's Heart. One of the best up-tempos on the album, it's chaotic but maintains the melody. I'm not sure what to make of the voice screaming "giddyup!" followed by the sound of a naying horse?! That crazy bit is made up for by the final minute with the drawn out hellowwwwwwws... fantastic.

Delicate is sustained by numerous high points: the achingly romantic Who Would Have Thought's chiming wedding bells (3:17), the classic Giorgio Moroder turbo synths on Step Into The Light, Darren channeling a butch trucker on the vocals for the growling, electro Setting Sun, the phone-line vocal treatment on The Only Ones, and Sing To Me's choral middle eight at 3:25.

I Just Want You To Love Me
is the kind of ballad Prince is no longer able to write. Again the theme is self-epiphany: "I don't want to have to lie about what's inside." Fans should take note, though, that the live version on the Verge single is actually a more passionate vocal.

Conversation With God is smart and sleek. If you pay attention, you'll notice that the underwater album photos reference this song's lyrics and sound. There's a bubbling synth and the reappearance of that "mighty ship." It's songs like this that show Darren's evolution from Savage Garden's Top 40 climber to the league of pop musicians who weld together commerce and art.

With 25 tracks, a few of the experiments fall flat for me (Bombs In Our Faces and Waking The Monster) and occasionally there is a duff lyric ("Adam and Eve are tryin' to split up"). For the most part, Darren avoids anything that shuts the record down. He did mysteriously leave off one of the best songs from these sessions, Falling Angel, a new b-side that is the definition of taut. That track continues the travel theme: "They say that man wasn't meant to fly, but I built you wings and pointed you at the sky." Seek it out.

It's to Darren's credit that he's been able to write an album based in happiness. Not an easy task for most artists, who seem to thrive on - and manufacture pain for - their music. His last album, The Tension And The Spark, seemed based in darkness. Delicate's final track, Tuning Of Violins, is one of the happiest songs of 2007. It reminds me, in spirit, of Kate Bush's The Morning Fog, music for a beautiful day and the sound of achievement.


Delicate will be released throughout the world on August 20 and 21.

16 comments:

Paul said...

a review of XO's review of darren hayes new album ~ your review is very good indeed. In fact it may make all other reviews of this album superfluous, though i look forward to them anyway. You have reignited my excitement. Well done you. I would hug you if i didn't have an unsightly rash...

Dan said...

Paul took the words right out of my mouth - I've been trying to come up with a comment worthy to this fantastic review. Suffice to say that this is a record that could have easily been overcooked. Fortunately, it is anything but.

J'ason D'luv said...

Tres taut.

Digital Scott's illustrationblog said...

Very interesting! I'll have to check it out.

countpopula said...

Your keen observation on this album is worth the purchase alone. Few others will write reviews of this album as well constructed and "taut" as this. Well done! And "Fallen Angel" is MAJOR too.

J'ason D'luv said...

Incidentally, "Fallen Angel" is one of my fave X-Files episodes. And Darren's a sci fi geek. So there.

Anonymous said...

Italicize much?

xolondon said...

I have removed the unnecessary italics for my MEAN friend Maria who has nothing nice to say. She THOUGHT I would not know it was her, but I did!

Electroqueer said...

Hey XO - loved your review of the album - very well written intpretation of this amazing piece of art - loves it! Thank you - Raj :)

Chrissie said...

Brilliant review. One of the very few I've read of this album where it sounded like the reviewer had listened to the songs and had taken the time to have a little think about them before beginning to type.
This Delicate Thing We've Made blew me away. I can't put my finger on exactly why but I even enjoyed the slightly messy and weird bits.
I personally love the music/vocal melodic flow (sorry, don't know the proper terminology) on Sing To Me. For some strange reason I cannot stop listening to it.

CarolynG said...

What an amazing review for this killer CD! It's great to read someone who gets it - someone who actually listened! Thanks especially for turning people on to the live version of "I Just Want You to Love Me" & the "B" side "Fallen Angel".

xolondon said...

Thank you for all the comments, folks

AngieG said...

This is by far the best review of this album I have found. I have had trouble putting my thoughts about it into words and you hit the mark perfectly.

Andie said...

Wonderful to see a review that sums it all up so well. I've read a few reviews that mention 'Waking the monster' as one of the low points but it's one of my favourites at the moment. I suppose that's what's so good about this album, you just know that as you get to know the songs better, your favourites will change. It's all down to individual taste in the end but I love it!

Anonymous said...

awesome review
I bought this album becuase of your
article dude!
I have to say that bombs and monster are up there in my top five faves tho!

Steven L

Jonathan said...

I have to confess, I absolutely love Darren Hayes. I have a lot of his albums/singles, but some of his experiments on Delicate surprised me as well. I agree with you in that "Bombs Up In My Face" is more of a miss than a hit, but I think it's important that Hayes explores his creativity and sings about what he feels. Ultimately, music is an art, and art is an expression of the inexpressible. I really enjoyed Hayes' raw and fragile human side.