On his debut album Forget, one of the most adored records of 2010, George Lewis Jr.’s Twin Shadow moniker seemed entirely appropriate. The name felt like the perfect window into the album’s elegant synths, its haunted R’n’B beats and its delicate balance of intimacy and mystery. As Twin Shadow, it seemed that Lewis Jr.’s destiny was to explore the romance of the blurred edges; love and longing sketched out in infinite shades of grey.
But it’s been 18 long months since Forget, and something has changed. The leak of ‘Five Seconds’, the first single off Twin Shadow’s new album Confess, was the warning shot; the first inkling that Lewis Jr. was preparing for a creative sidestep. From its opening moments, ‘Five Seconds’ bursts from black and white into widescreen Technicolor. The driving beat; the intermittent blasts of glam rock; Lewis’s breathless vocal delivery: each puffed-up element combines to cram the plot of every overblown ’80s romance into four mesmerising minutes, led by an effects-drenched central riff that plays like a turbocharged version of Berlin’s ‘Take My Breath Away’. All of sudden, George Lewis Jr. seems to have morphed from Twin Shadow to Double Rainbow.
The rest of Confess follows through on its lead single’s opening statement. Everything on the album is bigger and bolder than its predecessor, whether it’s the great warm rushes of synth on opener ‘Golden Light’, the rapturous octave jump at the end of ‘Be Mine Tonight’ or the chest-thumping guitar/beat combo on ‘You Call Me On’. These songs are so big that they’re constantly surfing the crest that separates the sublime and the ridiculous, but the album successfully runs the gauntlet through a combination of songwriting skill and sheer bravado.
While it’s impossible not to pine a little for some of the nuance and intricacy that has inevitably been lost along the way, the album’s lurch into Lewis’s grand new world doesn’t, for the most part, compromise what made Twin Shadow special in the first place. The vibe here might be more forthright than it was on Forget, but the changes are anchored in irresistible melody, that incredible, tender harmonic touch that provides the connective tissue between all of Lewis’s songs, big and small.
And although his lyrics here take a big step out of the shadows, they still have the ability to catch you off-guard with a line that cuts straight to the triumph and tragedy of modern romance. “I’m in love with my memories” he sings on ‘The One’, and it’s clear that remembering and reinterpreting the past is one of his prime sources of inspiration. It lends detail to his words, and a poignancy that puts some poetic meat on the album’s beautiful bones. His description of the emotional imprisonment of a failing relationship as “the ache of unused wings” on new-wavey tearjerker ‘Run My Heart’ is a metaphor expertly deployed for maximum resonance. On ‘I Don’t Care’, he ramps up the image of a co-dependent couple by playing on the three most important – and abused – words in the English language: “Before the night is through, I will say three words/I’ll probably mean the first two, and regret the third”. It’s vivid and melodramatic, but followed through with enough consideration that it carries more weight than you might expect.
Admittedly, Lewis occasionally oversteps his mark, like on the over-egged electro-pop of ‘Patient’, and there’s a risk that the people who fell in love with the first album’s more muted canvas will feel let down. But while a return to that style would have been welcome, there’s a glorious recklessness and vitality to Confess, as well as a balance carefully struck between emotional resonance and pop bombast. It’s the romance of R‘n’B fuel-injected with the passion of rock ‘n’ roll. It might not be as subtle as you were expecting, but it’ll bash you over the head until you succumb completely.