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REX ORANGE COUNTY Who Cares? gets 6.5/10


Rex Orange County

Who Cares?
RCA

6.5/10

Since he initially burst onto the scene in 2017, Alex James O’Connor’s pop project Rex Orange County has staked out its place in modern pop. His voice and hooks feel radio-ready, almost generically so, but it’s largely because they pre-dated and informed the genre that followed. His music is a halfway point between RnB and power pop, his albums thus far coming across as soul-inflected bedroom pop projects. Who Cares? continues that trajectory with few missteps, at the expense of too few risks.

This certainly feels like Rex’s most cohesive album to date, and this owes to the arrangements. While previous efforts threw in the kitchen sink, Who Cares? narrows its focus on tasteful string arrangements, piano, and bouncy basslines. Tracks like 7AM and Shoot Me Down are driven by the kind of simple but effective piano lines that would make Elton John or Paul McCartney proud. Opener Keep It Up and Worth It are driven by plaintive violin lines, while Open a Window and If You Want It are built off repeating string vamps.

The Beatles comparison is apt, as this is also Rex Orange County’s most melodic and pop-focused album to date. Strip away the arrangements and O’Connor’s jazzier vocal stylings and you have songs that are underpinned by the kind of classic pop songwriting that would make Macca proud. Shoot Me Down is built on a classic yearning pop hook that may well be O’Connor’s chiller version of The Beatles’ own Don’t Bring Me Down.

Elsewhere, O’Connor proves capable of higher-paced tracks such as the bouncy If You Want It and Keep It Up, and the hopeful 7AM. The sentiment of a lot of these tracks concerns romances ongoing or lost and realisations towards self-betterment. Rex Orange County charts well-worn territory here, but it’s done with its own fair share of charm. The heart-on-sleeve sentiment can wear thin but a good pop hook will always come to the rescue, as it does on album highlight One In a Million. This may become Rex Orange County’s signature track. With its fragile vocal, piano lines, bouncing bass and beautiful chorus, this is the essence of the artist distilled into a single track.

While this is Rex Orange County’s strongest and most focused effort to date, it suffers from a lack of distinction. While most of these tracks are strong, few are outstanding and many enter the realms of being overly simple (If You Want It), overly lightweight (The Shade) or overly sentimental (most of these songs). It’s a decidedly reserved effort from an artist that may still have their best to come. For now, we’re still waiting for Rex Orange County’s own Revolver.

MATIJA ZIVKOVIC

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