Three years ago The XX were the hippest things going, eventually scoring the Mercury Prize for their self-titled debut album. Now, they’re back for that all-important second release. So, are they a flash-in-the-pan or do they look like they will be around for a while?
In case you missed the XX bandwagon, here’s a little background. They are English and they consist of Romy Madley Croft (guitar & vocals), Oliver Sim (bass & vocals) and Jamie Smith (beats, percussion, keyboards). Since the release of their debut album, Jamie Smith (or Jamie XX, as he is also known) has made his mark in the “post-dubstep scene” (whatever that is) and has done remixes for Radiohead, Drake and Gil Scott-Heron.
The XX have performed in Auckland, appearing at the inaugural Laneway Festival in February of 2010 but made little impact as a live act, although to be fair, an outdoor festival is probably not the ideal place to see them. They make sparse, quiet, intimate music and no doubt require a venue of the same description.
So now that their high-anticipated second album is out, what’s the verdict? Judging by the various reviews I’ve seen already, it’s either the musical equivalent of The Second Coming or a complete waste of time. Come to think of it, that seems to be the way most reviews run these days…just check write-ups for the new Dylan or Cat Power…there seems to be no middle ground. These polarizing opinions probably make for more interesting reading, but they are rarely accurate. Such is the case with Coexist.
The 11 songs on offer here all mine the same emotional vein…either Sim or Croft sing with a seductive intensity about a relationship (theirs?) while Smiths electronics bubbles and squeaks behind them. The lyrics are written by Croft and Sim and they read like a high-schooler’s diary. “You’re more than I can believe, would ever come my way” (Fiction) and “I get swept away when I think of you, take me to that place where it’s control I lose” (Swept Away). By the time the album finishes with Our Song, they sound like they are reciting wedding vows to each other…”All I have I will give to you, in dark times when no one wants to I will give you me and we’ll be us”.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little romance, but if you think about it, the great love songs have something universal about them, something that anyone can identify with. These songs seem only relevant to the people singing them…it’s almost like listening in to two lovers as they whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ear. It’s fine for a while but then it gets old, or icky.
That’s the case here. The XX need to diversify a bit. It sounds like they are singing the same song (however beautiful) over and over. Jamie Smith’s creative beats and loops help some, but not enough.
Over the course of two albums The XX have proven that they can create stark, romantic and often beautiful songs, but it’s time to move on. What other songs do they have to sing?
Click here to listen to Try from Coexist: