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.