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Rex Orange County - Who Cares? (Album Review)

Wednesday, 23 March 2022 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Alexandra Waespi

On Rex Orange County’s fourth album, the Surrey softboi troubadour has served up 11 tracks of pleasant DIY chamber pop, somewhere between the 1970s tween chanson of Leo Sayer and the mid-Atlantic chutzpah of Ed Sheeran. It’s likeable, occasionally impressive music that will certainly land with his youthful audience, but it lacks depth, a sense of risk taking, and vocal derring do. 

Let’s deal with the likeable stuff first. Tracks like Amazing and Keep it Up are well-crafted pop songs that show off Alexander O’Connor’s superpower well. This superpower is the ability to present remarkably unaffected sounding lyrics with clarity and charm, accompanied by memorable melodies and tidy, untrained arrangements.

He seems like a nice young man, even if his messaging sometimes reads myopically, like an over-sharing social media post. 

The best track on the album should be Open a Window, which features Tyler, the Creator and revisits a highly lucrative previous creative collaboration—O’Connor appeared on the American superstar rapper’s Grammy-nominated 2017 album, ‘Flower Boy’. 

This track is a surprisingly serviceable blend of old school hip hop and twee pop, complete with memorable piano licks, call and response arrangements and jazz-infused passing chords. Weirdly, the problem is the rapping itself, which arrives like a sweary, dramaturgically irrelevant wrecking ball.

The main innovation on this album is the inclusion of strings throughout, and while the voices themselves sound organic (read: actual string players as opposed to digital sounds), there are subtle tells in the playing that indicate that this was perhaps created behind a laptop. 

This is important because ‘Who Cares?’ walks a delicate line between going full ‘70s soft rock and still sounding like this is one guy in his bedroom with Garageband loaded up. One suspects if it were too much of the former, vast swathes of Rex Orange County's audience might disengage.

This is music for teenagers and probably should be listened to as such, but there is still something rather disappointing about ‘Who Cares?’. O’Connor clearly has an elevated appreciation of story and melody that is not fully explored on this album, and which appears to be put on the back burner for now. Maybe future records will play it less safe.

Rex Orange County Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu July 07 2022 - MANCHESTER Castlefield Bowl
Fri July 15 2022 - DUBLIN Iveagh Gardens
Tue August 02 2022 - GLASGOW SWG3 Galvanizers Yard
Wed August 03 2022 - GLASGOW SWG3 Galvanizers
Sat August 13 2022 - LONDON Gunnersbury Park

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