Friday, 9 December 2011
MUSIC REVIEW: Secret Codes + Battleships - Darren Hayes
Darren Hayes is one of my most loved people in the whole world, and quite possibly my favourite singer/songwriter (I covered a whole A4 lever arch folder once in Affirmation - the album not the song - lyrics). So a new Darren album is an EVENT in my life. This is his fourth: I'm not ranking them as they're all completely different, but this is his poppiest album to date. In fact, funny I should mention Affirmation because Secret Codes and Battleships feels like an extension of Savage Garden, rather than what we're recently used to from Mr Hayes. But it is uber sophisticated - some of the production is extraordinary, and as always we are generously treated to more than a fair amount of songs, which should hopefully keep me satisfied for another couple of years before the next record. I've had the album for a fair few weeks now, so plenty of time for analysis, deconstruction and the odd dance. On first listen, I didn't like it at all - it reminded me of early days Westlife in places. Ouch. But SC&B is so much more than that. Here's the track guide, and how it won me over. Cue mad ramblings of a Darren Hayes fan...
1. Taken By The Sea
"Coz I am an island, and you are the ocean; and all of my sadness taken by the sea"
LOVE. I tell you one thing, Darren knows how to start an album (Darkness, A Fear of Falling Under). This is beautiful - the one song which I've grown to love more and more on repeat listenings and the only song that has managed to climb up past other more instantaneous songs on the album. It's also now one of my favourite relationship songs of all time. I love the idea of you being a singular place that can get isolated and cut off sometimes, but then you can be surrounded by the ocean which represents love which will protect and embrace you. Gorgeous analogy, and when you're feeling a bit worthless and lost and you have someone special to support you through it, that is this song. I'm only going to post videos/links to the best songs in this review, so here's the first.
The illuminated umbrella! Also, this song has an amazing ending - like a wave crashing. And I love the high note on the last "you are the ocean"... sigh.
2. Don't Give Up
"and I want to run away from this, but I never leave a sinking ship"
Definitely the most pure pop on the album (the one that made me think of Westlife, plus the generic title). But it's such a feel good song it can't help get into your head, and actually it's one of my guilty pleasures - love the third chorus (above). Plus, it carries the album's title: "I can't believe it's come to this, all our secret codes and battleships" - lovely.
3. Nearly Love
"but my heart is a lonesome ghost, I never feel you anyway"
FIC SONG ALERT. This always gets me excited. A song about being in love with someone so completely, but then something happens that makes the love lessen - not go away, but change and become a paler imitation of itself. You still love that person, but it's different, and it's no longer 'the one'. I find that so sad. It's worse than falling out of love with somebody and disliking them - it's like a dimming lightbulb waiting to fade out. And isn't that so true of life? Relationships that don't necessarily just end, they change over time until you realise you love them, but not enough for it to work anymore. So inherently sad. Having said that, Nearly Love is not a grieving ballad, but a catchy confession. The "love you, love you" echoes at the end of the frankly brilliant middle 8 on the album won't be to everybody's taste but there's a genuine outpouring of emotion on this song: "and my heart's in a mess because my nearly love is not real enough to be the one". Only a slight change, but it makes a big difference - and the guilt that comes with realising that. Brilliant, brilliant! Listen here (by god it was hard to find a clip of this):
But only third favourite on the album...
4. Black Out The Sun
"and all that we've shared will slowly disappear..."
I find this song the perfect emo tantrum. Take away the moon! the stars! Black out the sun! I want to live in the dark coz I'm so miserable! But it's also a bit dark and dramatic, a bit gothy (the video is the essence of that) and I love that about it. All the "no's" and "go's" that drive each sentence, and the chorus is a proper little belter in your bedroom (clutch your chest!). The writing is mixed - a cheesy line to slight a profound one, but the quoted one above always catches me when I hear it. The second UK single from the album, and it really is very strong.
5. Talk Talk Talk
"sometimes the words are unsaid but you listen to them argue every night in your head"
The forgotten about first single, Talk Talk Talk didn't resonate with many when it first came out. The first sound of post Delicate... and it sounded completely different - it sounded like he had gone backwards. Well, they were my first thoughts anyway. I thought we had abandoned the pop malarkey. Hearing it as part of the album it fits a purpose and finds its stride. I like it a lot more than I did, but it's not one of the best - yet the "calling out..." section is one of the most memorable on the whole record.
6. Bloodstained Heart
"we can dream each other to a new day where the good guys always win and heaven still means something"
I can't say much more about this than I have already - this is Darren's epic, to follow such greats as Like It Or Not, Unlovable, Dublin Sky, Sing To Me. I'll never get tired of listening to it; it's simply beautiful. Powerful chorus, dramatic middle 8, haunting ending. Imagine that in an outdoor arena in the rain with everyone holding their lighters up... oh now I'm just getting soppy. It's fabulous live though - Darren did a lot of mentoring on this year's Australian X Factor and performed this song live on the show, as it was released as a single over there (but not yet here. Booo! Such a waste!).
(I love to think Ronan is sat there stewing over why he could never write such a good song, ha. What the hell is he doing there anyway?!)
7. God Walking Into A Room
"my friends tell me I should look around for somebody new...but they don't know you"
TUUUUUUUNE! This is my second favourite (and favourite some days) song on the album. It's one of the first few that stood out to me, although I thought he was singing "every time we kiss it's like guy walking into the room" - you know, that famous saying, when a guy walks into a room...ahem. Anyway the reality may seem a little hokier, but my God is this the catchiest song ever or what. Proper hairbrush stuff. And I love all the dramatic pounding of the music in the chorus like someone's slamming their fist down on the ground. And the "ohhhhh oh oh"'s are AMAZING. I love this song so much. It took me ages to find it (has Darren got the You Tube police out on this release?) but finally did under this wrong title, and old pic. Ahh you can't have everything. Epic pop!
There are no lyrics to this song because they are all universally AWFUL. The most odious thing about this song other than its make you want to stab yourself in the eyes self pity is the fact that - growls, mutters - it's uber catchy. For a second there you forget you're singing things like "I can make you hurt! I can take you down so low I'll make you wanna cry! I can make you say goodbye!" bleuuuurgh. Darren, what were you thinking with this awful tripe you stick in the middle of the album where poor people like me may accidentally stumble across it? "nobody knows where this razor has been..." OH JESUS. I can make you Hurl, more like. Moving on. (she says quietly bopping in the background and hating herself for it)
"live in the moment, or wish your life away?"
Another song which slightly makes me want to puke. It's one of those "what would you do on your last night on earth?" songs, that, didn't Delta Goodrem do a couple of years ago? It's all very moody and full of high notes (though the last one is quite beautiful). At times its eloquence takes you away, but it's all a little skip-py and filler. I suppose if you're feeling particularly thankful for life you may find it poignant but we're verging into boyband territory again. And it always make me think of Outkast...
10. Stupid Mistake
"I got lazy... on the wrong side of love, I was stupid... sold my kingdom for a war with you"
This is my favourite song on the album without a doubt and I am sooooo gutted I can't find a proper mp3 of it anywhere on tinterwebs. Mega sulk. This song is just incredible - it's the best uptempo he's ever done, the best production he's ever done, and the ending just floors me. It's unbelievably good and a crime if he doesn't release this as a single - this is the song that would get him a million more fans, just like that. It just has so many layers - oh this is my favourite part, no this bit's amazing, oh my god what is he doing here? the TWIST! The last 90 seconds are pure, pure genius. I still get excited every time I listen to it! This live performance is the best I could find but does not do it justice in the slightest. Get on iTunes and just download it. If you're a pop fan but not interested in a whole Darren Hayes album, you just need to get this song. GET IT NOW!
11. Cruel Cruel World
"and when my hope is gone, I'm feeling numb, the only one I let through is you"
This song is a bit hit and miss - there are some brilliant poppy bits (the middle 8) but then the elongated 'you's' in the chorus can grate a little. Plus the lyrics, for whatever reason, I mishear every time I listen to this song - I'm sure he's not singing "I'm kind of a racist"... ha ha ha. Let's say it's not one I actively skip when it comes on - it's a nice little ode to someone.
12. The Siren's Call
Everybody's in love with this song... I just find it hugely dull. Again, no lyrics - something about honey dripping from the finger tips of God... ugh. Again, it's something in the song that people connect with - the siren's call luring you into happiness ("I can almost feel your embrace") and a lot of people have fallen sucker to the African/gospel symphonies and Darren's angelic oooh-ing. A bit much for me, but maybe I'll get its 'genius' in a couple of years?
That's the full listing, but there are bonus album tracks if you get hand on the special/deluxe editions, and a few stand outs...
"And it's for the best, but the best for who? I wish I knew"
Any song that has a love hound in it is win win for me! This is one of my favourites on the whole album - so unbelievably catchy, especially the bridge - has to be the best bridge on the whole album. Really dancey, has a great middle 8 that's a dead cert for unanimous clapping at concerts! It's only a shame that the chorus lets it down slightly with its odd lyrics - he really is slamming the God epiphany down our ears this time round! He is forgiven though for his ultra high "this is the sound" which reminds everyone what a superb voice he has!
Another one that was hard to find and comes with horrible bonus 90s pic...
Club music + cheesy lyrics = weakest song on the album. Next!
15. Tiny Little Flashlights
"and when you're upside down, and smoke is in the air, and when you're falling apart you see those tiny little flashlights leading the way in the dark"
Ahh, it's the plane crash song. It's only recently that I realised how blatant this song is - I knew there was a plane crash lyric, but listening to it all, the whole bloody song is about the plane disintegrating in the air and sudden death approaching - "and as we're spiralling and crashing into the sea..." now calm down Mr Hayes, no need to go all plane disaster 101 on us! On wait, of course the plane is just the symbol of a relationship. Phewwww. And a beautiful one it is too - love, love, love the chorus and the "we're all just spinning wheels..." repeat. Yes, this is a definite grower and a quiet gem at the end of the album.
"when did you stop seeing me as a reflection of you?"
This song holds a special place in my heart for listening to this album - first run through this was the one song which stood out for me and I found myself clumsily murmuring along to after it had finished. On repeat listens it's an amazing song and one that deservedly stands out. The only funny thing is the echoed "nothing, nothing, nothing" which grabs your attention in the first place becomes redundant once you've fallen in love with the eloquent misery of the song. The above lyric just about nicks first place, but I also adore "another sunset needs an argument" and "how did my love turn into something that you don't really want?" Suffice to say it's a love gone sour song, and it's a fabulous one. But sadly... no videos :-(
"I'm a little bit hopeful that we all carry on, but part of me just thinks we are just stardust"
Well now Darren Hayes - you've done a funeral song! And what a sunny, uplifting one it is as well - this is a beautiful send off for literally anything, and a great ending for the album. Sound the violins!
Now get it all for yourself here or the handy iTunes. See what others thought here and here.