Monday 2nd January 2017
The xx have been well serviced by heartbreak. It now seems but a distant memory from my formative teenage years, but I can just recall when that Mercury Prize-winning debut was released almost 8 years ago, and how the self-absorption and melancholia of its idiosyncratic sound was such a tenderly acute soundtrack to the introversions and uncertainty of young love. Their second album, “Coexist”, continued in a similar trajectory.
But as if following the well-advised leads of Rimbaud or the surviving members of Joy Division, The xx shall not wallow in such jilted adolescent brooding for any longer. For with “I See You”, the band may or may not have had New Order in mind, but the album seems to reflect such a blossoming transformation. It announces itself on opening track “Dangerous” with a rolling bass line, a thundering dance beat, and the vocals are crisp and clear; not the awkward, shoegazing murmurs of teenagers tiptoeing around the prenuptial bed, “I See You” is the postlapsarian, sophisticated work of three older, wiser young adults.
For the formerly London based band has relocated to record largely throughout America, and I assume that this more Hollywood depiction of love was strongly influenced by their flight across the Atlantic. Throughout the album the guitar leads are also less present, and they drift in and out of brass band samples and dancehall rhythms more reminiscent of Jamie xx’s recent solo work than either of the band’s previous albums. As the vocals are more prominent, the melodies are far stronger, the infectious pop choruses of lead singles “On Hold” and “Say Something Loving” being apt indicators of this, and there is a consistent level of song writing throughout that one should expect from a record that was so long in the making.
The lyrics in this album, as they are given far clearer diction, seem to be more explicitly self-referential. On “I Dare You” Romy sings, ‘I’ve been a romantic for so long / all I’ve ever had are love songs’, in “Performance” she asks ‘If I dance like I’m on a stage / will you see I seem out of place’; strangely, more often than not the words are still dealing with heartbreak, and the more upbeat melodies may often sound like ‘performance’, but Romy and Oliver’s vocals are more complimentary than before, and when they share lines each singer seems to reaffirm and uplift the other. The album’s title is telling, and like Lou Reed before them, the band are talking about the cathartic effect of mirroring those close to us, particularly through the more difficult tides of love.
If they are singing largely about themselves, I might question how interested we are really supposed to be in a band that only makes three rather shy appearances to the public in almost 8 years. But what is admirable is The xx’s ability to maintain what was always a very distinct identity whilst they completely reimagine their sound, and the themes of the lyrics are rather ubiquitous anyway. The album is filled with crescendos that never quite break into full dance tunes, like a DJ stepping back from his decks before he reaches the drop, or three wallflowers poking their heads in at the entrance to a nightclub before they step back out without barely setting a foot inside. “I See You” is more redemptive and enlightened than anything The xx have done before, but if you are just as heartbroken now as when they released their first two albums, then, Romeo, the record still has much to offer.
Thankyou for reading, you can see my review published on Gigwise via the link above.