On The xx vocalist’s solo debut, produced by Jamie xx, it’s comforting to hear that haunted, fragile spectral sound even while the lyrical content surprises
Hard though it may be to believe, The xx‘s debut album is now 13 years old. That record still sounds so haunting and beguiling that not even David Cameron’s remarks about how it’s his “favourite music to snuggle to” with his wife hasn’t tarnished it too much.
Since then, the trio have released two further albums, and each member has made diversions into solo careers. While we haven’t heard more than a couple of singles from Romy Madley Croft, but Jamie xx has released the excellent In Colour, and become an increasingly prolific producer for hire, remixing the likes of Radiohead, Four Tet and Tyler, The Creator.
Jamie xx is also credited as the producer on Oliver Sim‘s debut solo record, which means that there isn’t much of a sonic leap from The xx to Hideous Bastard. That isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s strangely comforting to hear that haunted, fragile spectral sound encompassing Sim’s unmistakeable vocals as soon as Hideous kicks in.
Although maybe comforting isn’t the correct adjective to use for Hideous – with lyrics like “Caught my reflection in your eye, now you’ve seen me from both sides, am I hideous”, talk of wasting time with men who don’t feel the same as him, and a chorus of “why don’t you leave me in the dirt”, this isn’t an easy listen. Even the bridge from a typically angelic-sounding Jimmy Somerville can’t cushion the emotional blow of Sim’s final line: “Been living with HIV since 17, am I hideous?”
It’s a powerful opening to an album which seems to embellish The xx’s trademark sound as it goes on. The shuffling, addictively catchy Romance With A Memory is an early highlight, while the brooding GMT (“I’m on Greenwich Mean Time, missing you” runs the haunting chorus) shows off Sim’s distinctive vocals to their best advantage.
Unreliable Narrator has an almost cinematic sheen to it, with some Kraftwerk-like synths gliding gorgeously all over it, while Sensitive Child is soaked in reverb, full of clattering drums and driving guitar riffs. The fact that the latter song just seems to suddenly end, without warning, adds to its effectiveness.
It’s the lyrical content which really surprises though. Although Sim has always been openly gay, The xx’s lyrics have always been deliberately abstract. On his solo album, it’s a different matter. Romance With A Memory reads as an apology: “I’ve got my father’s eyes, I’ve got my mother’s smile.” There’s even humour to be found in closing track Run The Credits’ identification with cinema’s queer serial killers: “Disney princes, my God, I hate them… I’m Buffalo Bill, I’m Patrick Bateman.”
At times, you do miss Romy providing the balance to Sim’s vocals, but this is, in its own way, as successful an xx side-project as the In Colour album has been. As an antidote to the long wait until the next album by the full band, this is a must listen.