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(Credit: Alexandra Waespi)

Music

Rex Orange County brings meaningless bliss on new album 'Who Cares?'

@josephtaysom
Rex Orange County - 'Who Cares?'
6.2

Rex Orange County has quietly become one of Britain’s most significant exports of the last few years, and the BRIT school alumni’s latest offering, Who Cares?, is only going to ascend his rise further— but does he deserve the hype?

23-year-old Alexander O’Connor’s story is quite remarkable. He self-released his first release, Bcos U Will Never B Free, in 2015, which he followed up two years later with Apricot Princess. That same year, Rex released his trademark track ‘Loving Is Easy’, which has been streamed on Spotify alone over 380 million times. Additionally, he currently has over 13 million monthly listeners on the platform.

The bedroom pop sensation finally signed to a label for 2019’s Pony, which he released through RCA, and it impressively charted at number three in the Billboard Chart while also making the top five in his native country.

Remarkably, this summer, he’ll be heading across to the States to play huge headline shows at incredibly vast outdoor arenas. His proposed jaunt includes the legendary Hollywood Bowl and Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, Colorado’s Red Rocks and New York’s Forest Hills Stadium before returning home for a special homecoming show at London’s Gunnersbury Park.

The mass appeal of Rex Orange County is easy to comprehend. His music makes for effortless listening that doesn’t challenge the listener while making pleasant background noise, and for some people, this is all they want from a record. Meanwhile, his dour and simplistic brand of lyricism is one that every teenager in the land can relate to.

His new record feels like a step backwards from the adventurous Pony and finds Rex scaling things back. Who Cares? was made with Benny Sings (who he worked with on ‘Loving Is Easy) at the latter’s home in Amsterdam, and it’s commendable that O’Connor is still shying away from the bombastic major-label production you’d associate with someone on his level of success.

It must be said, album opener ‘Keep It Up’ is a lovely earworm that is uplifting until you listen to the dark lyrics about O’Connor’s anxieties which juxtapose with the schmaltzy string arrangement and morale-boosting chorus.

‘Open A Window’ again returns to the theme of the singer’s stresses and bares his heart as he shares his desperate frustrations with the claustrophobic world, which has left him gasping for air.

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Again, although the nature of the song is downbeat, the luxurious way that Rex approaches the subject matter makes for a cathartic listen. Furthermore, Tyler, The Creator’s cameo on the track adds a much-needed energy boost that elevates the effort.

The syrupy ‘Amazing’ sees Rex lift the spirits on the album and show appreciation for the love in his life. “Don’t change a thing, you are amazing, I can’t believe you’ve come and saved me, We can stay here, spend every day here,” he inventively sings.

‘One In a Million’, meanwhile, is a bland, middle of the line offering that follows the same theme of the proceeding track and comes across as rather cringe-inducing. However, despite that, the material will probably go down a treat with his youthful audience. On the flip side, ‘If You Want It’ is anything but boring, and he’s rewarded for his risks on the bold, synth-heavy effort, where O’Connor displays his enchanting knack for melody. Unfortunately, this progressive side to Rex has hidden away too often on the record. 

Towards the end of the album, Rex taps back into his jazz roots on ‘Shoot Me Down’ and expresses a grandiose side to his sound, which hints at the singer’s maturer future. Although Who Cares? doesn’t particularly say a lot, there’s no denying that it remains utterly blissful on the ears, and the lyrics are vague enough that we can all relate to them on some level.

While on the surface, it doesn’t feel like O’Connor’s species of music could be selling-out stadiums, however, the sheer inoffensive nature and gentile complexion of Who Cares? explain precisely why his success isn’t as unlikely as it first seems.