Darwin Deez is one of those artists whose first album seemed to strike a chord with the indie populous when it was released – a ten track LP with twee lyrics and simple pop sensibilities, accompanied by offbeat videos featuring the main man himself. The songs are super catchy and the album still stands as one people want to listen to five years later. Over 11 million hits on Spotify for ‘Radar Detector’ speaks for itself and all from an album that was recorded exclusively on one four-string electric guitar. It’s beauty is its simplicity.
Fast forward to 2013 and Darwin Smith, alongside various fellow band members, has a second album under his belt, one with a lot more instruments, an attempt at a fuller sound and the accompanying criticism that it was all trying a bit too hard. So today, as the third album and fifth single is about to be released, are we returning to the simple, whimsical pop of the first album or the over-produced second album, and more importantly, how many instruments is Darwin playing this time?
Well on first listen, we are somewhere in between albums one and two. From recent interviews, it seems Darwin’s tactic has been to approach songwriting from different directions – driving the creation by a bass line rather than a lyric, for example – but with the influences of the pop artists that drove album one – Andre 3000 being one, specifically called out.
Unfortunately the album makes a bit of a limp start – ‘Last Cigarette’ and ‘The Mess She Made’ are certainly not the strongest tracks on offer and limp through their themes of heartbreak and broken relationships with little panache or imagination. Things pick up as we sweep through ‘Lover’, with its quirky layered sound effects and 80s guitar riffs. It’s all sweetly written, carefully engineered indie pop music that is just gagging to be listened to on a sunny summer’s day with a cold drink in hand. It’s completely harmless, it’s fun to listen to and I’m sure it’s fun to play, but I’m struggling to find any depth in it.
The best track on the album, and the one that feels most authentic, is ‘Rated R’. It’s not just that it sticks in my head, it’s the only one that stands out as a little bit different.
The first single to come from the album, ‘Kill Your Attitude’ hearkens more closely back to the song structures of the debut – this is Darwin recognizably as Darwin – a straightforward mix of synths and vocals, with a random guitar solo thrown in for good measure. I find myself turning it down, because it feels like background music.
And that’s the problem all the way through – I want it to fade out, to talk over it – I’m itching to do something else. And maybe it’s partly because Darwin has such a distinctive voice, and maybe it’s because ‘Radar Detector’ has been played to death, but I just feel like I’ve heard it all before. If you’re a big Darwin Deez fan, I think you’re going to love it. But for me it fails to re-capture the magic of a debut that perfectly crystallized a moment in time: that moment was back in 2010, and it’s gone.
Skip past ‘The Mess She Made’, ‘Melange Mining Co’ and ‘Right When It Rains’. Skip to ‘Lover’, ‘Rated R’ and ‘Bag of Tricks’.