“I’m ugly,” Oliver Sim purrs in the opening line of his debut solo album ‘Hideous Bastard’. It’s striking, but nothing compared to what comes next on ‘Hideous’. “Caught my reflection in your eye / Now you’ve seen me from both sides / Am I hideous?” he questions shortly afterwards, before dropping the bombshell revelation in a brave couplet: “Radical honesty might set me free if it makes me hideous / Been living with HIV since 17 – am I hideous?”
Although the track represents the first time The xx singer and bassist has shared his diagnosis with the virus – and initially does so in crushing, dark tones – this Jamie xx-produced album isn’t a tell-all nor self-flagellation for self-flagellation’s sake. Instead, Sim uses the music to process the way it’s coloured his life and try and liberate himself from at least some of the shackles of the disease.
The results are beautiful, moving and – regardless of subject matter – brilliantly inventive. On ‘Romance With A Memory’, the song that sparked the rest of the record, the artist explores his longing to “feel handsome” and how he’s used partners not to find love but to fulfil needs.
The soaring ‘Fruit’ moves into familial territory (“Have I made you proud? Take a look at me now / If I’ve got my father’s eyes; I’ve got my mother’s smile”), while ‘‘Run The Credits’ positions its creator as a “psycho killer in a romantic comedy” and rejecting “the lie of the teenage dream” perpetuated by Hollywood. “Run the credits, let them rain on me / Even Romeo dies in the final scene,” Sim urges in the chorus. It’s a darkly humorous nod to the fact that no matter the hand life deals us, we’ll all meet the same end eventually.
Just as ‘Hideous Bastard’’s lyrics don’t wallow, neither does the music that accompanies them. There are brooding, ominous sounds, yes, but they surge with urgency. ‘Sensitive Child’ takes splashy, reverb-soaked drums and driving, dark guitar licks and melds them with a needling piano line and crisp synth drones, while ‘Never Here’ crafts an eerie atmosphere with glitches and a wafting, melancholy melody, before adding lighter layers; it’s the closest the album veers toThe xx.
Before teaming up with Jamie xx on ‘Romance With A Memory’, Sim had no intention of making a solo album. Thank goodness his friend persuaded him, or we’d be robbed of this utterly majestic and magnificent record.
Release date: September 9