Ocean Eyes is a frustrating listen, or an enchanting one, depending on your stomach.
Fraser McAlpine 2010
As any busker will tell you, a one-man-band is a dangerous thing to be. Unless you’re the kind of natural genius who can play every instrument to a standard higher than your average session musician, there is always the chance the music you make will be less than the sum of your parts.
Adam Young, for all that he is highly skilled with his recording equipment, occasionally sounds like a man who needs an editor: someone to pull his best ideas together, weed out the silly bits and help finish his songs off properly.
It’s understandable that his music has ended up as unfocussed as it is, given that he only started working on Owl City material as a way to tackle a nasty bout of insomnia. His songs are riddled with rhyming couplets which could only make sense at 4am, or have melodies which snoozily refuse to wander too far from their nice comfy root. They all strike the same tone too: it’s late, my eyelids are drooping, and I’m thinking mad thoughts.
The wooziness is reflected in Adam’s voice, which is whisper-soft, quiet and nasal, like a man whose parents sleep lightly and have to get up early for work.
All of which makes Ocean Eyes a frustrating listen, or an enchanting one, depending on your stomach for meadow-skipping whimsy. There’s no denying that Adam can create a pretty picture. On The Wing, for example, is a valiant mix of undulating strings, ticker-tape percussion and sparkling glockenspiel which is begging for a quirky cartoon to soundtrack.
On the other hand, Dental Care is a string of observations about a trip to the dentist. It’s not even a metaphorical or magical dentist: just a dentist.
Ultimately, it’s unfair to examine Owl City’s music too rigorously. Adam Young’s muse comes from timeless, ageless, weightless places, like the Hundred Acre Wood, or Mole and Ratty’s riverbank. The fact that Winnie the Pooh could – and did – write better lyrics is neither here nor there. Not everyone has a Christopher Robin to come and save them from themselves.