Who Cares? is the question posed on this fourth record from the once definitive bedroom-pop sad boy whose concentrated sense of angst, swelled against suspenseful sonic backdrops, gave him the edge over the field.
The record explores the range of sounds that Rex Orange County brainchild Alex O'Connor was drawn to upon his creative adventure to Amsterdam – discussed on the troubled track “The Shade” – where he once again collaborates with Benny Sings, whom you may remember from his greatly successful feature on “Loving Is Easy”. Despite this modern fusion of jazz, pop and hip-hop, the foundations of this LP come to rely on a delightfully orchestral backbone.
Lead single “Keep It Up” is a glistening message of encouragement providing an excellent intro to Who Cares? and it’s invigorating themes. A soft string opening continues to back a solid beat and silky vocals which emphasise the significance of self-worth, proving that O'Connor is continuing to navigate the self-doubt expressed on 2019’s Pony but with less edge and more glowing optimism.
Some real discography highlights soon follow, with “Open A Window” summoning a deep, growling bass to accompany a rhythmic groove, both setting the stage for an excellent feature from Tyler, the Creator which builds on the song's strong core while paying homage to the roots of O'Connor’s success. “If You Want It” is another refreshing change of pace, utilising disjointed violins to contrast subdued keys, distorted articulation and a heavy beat. These two tracks hint towards a moodier side of the Hampshire-born artist than we’ve glimpsed in the past.
A sense of cohesion is watered down by muddled thematic through lines caused by the inevitable introduction of romantic concerns; “Making Time” attempts to drown a craving for the comfort of a partner’s time, while “Shoot Me Down” expresses a drawn-out sense of desperation. The overall sense of direction is still enjoyable and fulfilling, with the swirling mixture shrugging off unwanted and unneeded woes.
If Pony dismantled O'Connor’s heart on a table, Who Cares? begins to understand how to put the pieces back together and move on, albeit with detours into passionate pining. Ever soothing and uplifting, the 11 tracks represent the sonic equivalent of a soft blanket - slightly used and tainted by a few patches, but comforting none-the-less. Don’t expect this LP to reinvent O'Connor’s established ‘wheel’, but it certainly shows signs of a formula being gradually improved and perfected.