You have to feel a little sorry for an artist like Darren Hayes, forever being known as the former Savage Garden frontman rather than a talented solo artist releasing his third album. Being relegated to the lower echelons of the charts whilst primped, styled and auto-tuned muppets rule the roost has got to be a bit grating as well.
So what better than a fantastic new double-album jam-packed with amazingly well written and varied songs to really make people sit up and take note. Then again, perhaps not. While this album is a lot more varied than its predecessors, and you can note the quite blatant influences of artists like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, it’s in serious danger of resembling Westlife trying to be trendy.
It comes as no surprise to see that this is being released on the artist’s own label. The sheer self-indulgence of opener A Fear of Falling Under’s minute and a half intro is likely to have all but the most hardcore fan reaching for the ‘next-track’ function. The structure hops from tracks of different genres presumably to highlight the variety, without actually allowing the listener to become accustomed to one style for long enough to really appreciate it.
All that said, you cannot fault Hayes’ writing or vocal talents. Whilst he obviously doesn’t have a range of Mariah Carey proportions he can certainly put most other artists today to some serious shame. From the breathy vocals and harder edge of Setting Sun to the warbling falsetto of the deceptive darkness of the Enya-esque Neverland there is no denying the sheer quality that he can produce.
On the other end of the spectrum there’s a slew of highly remixable club anthems in waiting. Step into the Light and Listen All You People are probably the best examples, although the disco-squawk of Me Myself and (I), which just screams Prince, is another hot contender. Darren’s always had some hard support from the pink pound, and it’s easy to see why.
The rest of the album fluctuates. The only real surprise comes with the Bombs Up In My Face, where the vocals are completely digitised – take it out of context and you’d spend a month trying to guess the artist and still not even come close. There’s also the return of some political lyrics in the shape of The Great Big Disconnect.
In hindsight, which admittedly is never the best way to judge things, the choice of On the Verge Of Something Wonderful as the first single was not the best one. Universally panned by the critics as sub-standard pop and nowhere near as good as previous offerings, it has lead to disinterest in the album. The structure hasn’t helped matters, as it takes a good couple of listens to really pick out the gems and, with a double album, how many people honestly have the time or patience for repetitions?
Ultimately there’s too much of it. For something that is quintessentially a comeback album you either need to play to your existing strengths in the manner of Simply Red, or go for a whole new style a la Madonna. Hayes has hedged his bets, and it shows. Somewhere amongst these 25 tracks is probably a halfway decent album. It’s just swamped.