Rex Orange County – ‘Who Cares?’ review: another masterclass in heartfelt pop

On this joyous and uplifting fourth outing, the Hampshire-born singer-songwriter takes a walk on the bright side

It’s easy to forget that, when Rex Orange County started out, he often operated with a wilful cynicism. “It’s not worth forgetting about yourself / Because of one fucking girl,” he sang on ‘A Song About Being Sad’, a soulful lament centered around self-sabotaging that featured on his self-released debut, 2015’s ‘Bcos U Will Never Be Free’. He painted himself as having heartbreak worse than anyone, but the unspoken acknowledgment that made his early music twinkle and resonate is that he really just had it as bad as everyone else.

Over the years, the 23-year-old artist – born Alex O’Connor – has retained elements of that world-weariness, but as he has perfected a sparkling alchemy of candour-driven pop, R&B, soul and jazz, his music has become more hopeful. Amidst the anthems of self-doubt, sincere ruminations on the brighter side of life emerged on breakthrough album ‘Apricot Princess’ and its lavish follow-up, ‘Pony’. This act of believing in something – whether it’s a chance at love, or rebuilding confidence – intensified O’Connor’s vitality to his young fanbase: as he began to find joy in the everyday, he wanted everyone else to experience it. He began writing mood-boosting songs not just for himself, but also, for us.

‘Who Cares?’, O’Connor’s fourth album, is a gorgeously measured step forward. Though not much has changed within the music itself – gentle and warm choruses glide through tracks such as ‘Amazing’ and the incisive, violin-assisted ‘One In A Million’ – these songs are genuinely affecting, as they glow with hard-won positivity. The fizzy, excitable ‘Keep It Up’ is a mantra of perseverance, while the title track, with its deliberately buoyant piano melody, reminds us that “there’s really no point living in fear.”

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The record is also informed by two of the most important creative partnerships of O’Connor’s career. Benny Sings – who also appeared on 2017’s ‘Loving Is Easy’, which has become one of this generation’s defining love songs – takes hold of the production reigns here, sprinkling in bright and lightly juvenile keys and drum patterns on ‘If You Want It’, and understated bass flourishes on ‘7AM’. Tyler, The Creator, meanwhile, makes a typically characterful appearance on the loose and funky ‘Open A Window’ – a welcomed continuation of the pair’s relationship, which began with O’Connor’s vocal contributions to the Californian rapper’s ‘Flower Boy’ album.

Even if there is no clear breakthrough moment for O’Connor on ‘Who Cares?’, there is something to be said for an artist that is this consistent, and this committed to uplifting his listeners. These 11 tracks simply encourage his audience to draw those curtains wide, to look at the sun outside that window, to keep moving forward.

Details

Rex Orange County who cares

  • Release date: March 11
  • Record label: RCA
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