A bold and brave new album that steps from the bedroom into the spotlight.
John Aizlewood 2012-08-17
Arguably the first serious pop star to rise via MySpace and YouTube, Adam Young seemed set for stardom when 2009’s Ocean Eyes, his second album as Owl City, and its attendant single Fireflies took him out of his Minnesota bedroom and into the British and American top 10.
Things are rarely so straightforward. As is so often the way, this painfully shy artist was, in ironic truth, more suited to his bedroom than the charts. That the third, best and warmest Owl City album, 2011’s All Things Bright and Beautiful, enjoyed comparatively modest sales did solve one problem: Young wasn’t going to endure the stresses brought by a mass audience. But it also created many more, not least what to do next.
Surprisingly, he’s gone for the commercial jugular. Welcoming as Young’s previous work was, it was always underpinned by that gentle bedroom sensibility. This time he’s not so much come out of the pop closet as kicked the doors down, hence Good Time’s scarf-waving, anthemic chorus; Embrace sounding like a less-camp Erasure; and Metropolis hurtling along like the long-lost New Radicals.
And, while Young has never been averse to collaboration, it’s still a surprise not just when Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus turns up to bellow the thudding Dementia, but that Young has allowed outside producers including Stargate, soundcrafters for Shakira, Rihanna, Beyonce and, of course, S Club 7, to shape his world.
The downside to this rampant expansion of sound could have been a corresponding dip in warmth, but Young has turned out to be a smoother, less-desperate operator than you might imagine.
He has no fear of dance, and while the Stargate-helmed Shooting Star owes much to another of their creations, Katy Perry’s Firework, there’s a familiar touching vulnerability to the piano ballad Silhoutte (“I can’t put to bed these phobias and fears”) and Take It All Away, his most musically daring moment.
If this gamble works, Owl City will be huge again and, this time, Young sounds like he wants it. If the downwards spiral continues, he’s still made a brave and bold addition to what is increasingly looking like a catalogue to relish.