George Lewis Jr's second album is a thrill ride
If 2010’s ‘Forget’ placed George Lewis Jr somewhere between the preened pop of Prince and the romantic loquacity of Morrissey, then on ‘Confess’ he’s upped the ante to a full-throttle synth assault. Two years ago his debut emerged into a scene saturated with the early-hours bedroom jams of the chillwave and lo-fi generation, and slick maestro Twin Shadow cut through the fuzz with a perfectly polished collection of new-wave-indebted heartbreak pop. While his contemporaries seemed to be harking back to a bygone age of crystal-clear production by reinterpreting it through a haze of distortion, he embraced every heart-pumping, blood-rushing, head-spangled element of it.
‘Confess’ continues in much the same vein. But instead of the dreamy, romantic elements of its predecessor, this time round it’s harder, faster and louder. Recorded in the aftermath of a motorcycle crash and inspired by Lewis Jr’s early-morning full-throttle race drives, it’s a desperate and impassioned ride. Take the standout ‘5 Seconds’ – a dangerous, rip-roaring piece of pop brilliance that pits fuel-guzzling synth loops against drum punches so banging you’ll be reaching for the ibuprofen by the second listen. Then there’s the booming industrial stomp ‘You Call Me On’, which sways deliriously between bouncing R&B bass riffs and abrasive synths.
As with ‘Forget’, there’s still plenty of girl chasing on this record. Flickering guitar jam ‘You Don’t Run My Heart’ – with its bitter swipe of “[i]You don’t run my heart, don’t pretend you can[/i]” – has enough hip-swishing swagger to make The Boss proud. Meanwhile ‘The One’, with its not-so-humble coo, “[i]I’m in love with being loveable[/i]”, could so easily induce vomiting if it wasn’t for the ‘Close To You’ Cure-esque bass patter that dissolves the saccharine into a finger-clicking pop romp. But for all the lustre of ‘Confess’, there’s a more sinister undercurrent that takes its cues from all the great ’80s synth pioneers – the rippling keyboard stabs and jagged synths on the Depeche Mode-inspired ‘Beg For The Night’, for example. Elsewhere, the devastating ‘I Don’t Care’ matches a towering cry of “Let’s dance around the room while you lie to me” with a gritty drum breakdown and creepy piano jams.
But ‘Confess’ isn’t just another new-wave copy-and-paste job. There are more than enough smatterings of influence at work here to keep it sounding fresh: the booty-grinding ’90s R&B groove ‘Patient’ with its eerie steel drums (hello, The Knife), and even the occasional French horn interjection all conspire to keep ‘Confess’ out of the realms of mere ’80s pop revivalism.
At its core this is brilliantly slick, dapper rock-pop. Among all the backwards-glancing familiarity there’s an enduring sense of off-kilterness, giving the album just enough bite to make you realise that nostalgia is a vehicle for his songwriting rather than its sole point, making ‘Confess’ as disorientating as it is addictive.