Album Reviews

Romy – Mid Air

(Young) UK release date: 8 September 2023

The xx’s guitarist and co-vocalist’s solo debut brings nostalgic club music memories to bear on lovelorn lyrics very much of the now

Romy - Mid Air As one third of downtempo Londoners The xx, Romy Madley-Croft’s time in the solo spotlight has been a long time coming. Jamie xx and Oliver Sim, the other band members, have already released solo albums and, in the case of the former, produced for others. In 2020 Romy released her debut single, the ravey ‘90s eurodance-inflected Lifetime, but of an album there was no sign. She wrote for Mark Ronson, Dua Lipa and others, biding her time, continuing to DJ, as she has since her teenage years; absorbing, writing songs, making contacts.

Now comes Mid Air, the debut solo album. “I guess one of the main inspirations and things that I love is club classics – Ibiza house, trance music, stuff that you can really dance to but also sing along to,” says its creator. “What I realised was a lot of those club classics are big songs as well as just being fun to dance to.” Turning to both Fred Again.. and Stuart Price for assistance (the latter the producer behind, most famously, Madonna’s Confessions On A Dancefloor), Romy has made an ambitious dance pop album that’s as much coming-of-age, coming-to-terms and coming out tale as it is a celebration of the trancier end of club music. In nostalgic homage to her formative years on dancefloors, the music comes interlaced with lyrics which elegantly tread the line between same-sex attraction (and how refreshing it is to hear this from a woman’s point of view, and for “she” and “her” to be used instead of fudging the language) and the thrilling revelation that being in love can be. Both a paean to togetherness and a statement of a confidence in her solo direction, Mid Air finds Romy’s distinctively familiar voice with much to say.

Lyrically the album is of this time rather than what went before. It is deeply personal and specific to moments, memories and their emotions, and it is this that elevates it beyond the turn-of-the-century Ibiza club singles this songwriter-DJ has etched onto her brain. The xx’s characteristic embracing of stillness is present and correct too. Thus, the album’s gorgeous opening track Loveher unhurriedly links plaintively stark piano notes with lyrics that zoom in on an intimate moment: “Hold my hand under the table, it’s not that I’m not proud in the company of strangers, it’s just… some things are for us.” It’s the sort of introspectively lovelorn yet sweet lyric you might expect to crop up on the Heartstopper soundtrack.

Following this statement of intent, Mid Air unfolds as an album that has had care given to its structure as well as its many vividly realised details, comprised of what amounts to three acts of compelling dance pop moments punctuated by two serene pullbacks of otherworldly calm, seemingly placed to allow the listener (or the artist?) to draw breath. The first, DMC, occupies just half a minute, with the introvert line “I find it really hard to talk about… Normally, I’d probably just ask you how you feel instead. Mmm, just breathe in, don’t look down…” The second, the title track, clocks in at just 96 seconds and opens with Romy’s fragmented vocals scattering around what sounds like a club’s aircon, or tinnitus, before Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s big soul vocals intone: “My mother says to me, Enjoy your life.” Slowly, we’re brought back to the dancefloor by means of pitch-shifting and the cranking up of the beat, as it gives way to the joyous disco-infused anthem-to-be, Enjoy Your Life. 

So good you’ll want to play it again as soon as it’s done, this track is worth the club’s entry fee alone. “Dancing on my own again,” Romy sings, channelling Robyn for an instant, but follows it with “anxiety my old friend”. But in a club, anxiety can be let go as the music, lights and the moment takes over. It’s ridiculously eloquent and evocative about so much for a mere throwaway rhyming couplet. And that’s before mentioning the blissed-out Balearica of The Sea (you can almost hear the surf washing in), the propulsive affirmatory Strong, or the immersive, hands-in-the-air Did I.

A happy ending to these good vibes is only fitting, and in further evidence of brevity in lyrics being one of Romy’s most successful instincts, she comes up with one of the lines of the year in She’s On My Mind: “She’s on my mind, but I wish she was under me.” Sparkly major-key piano counterpoints the bouncy bass around her, and you’re conspiratorially nodding along with and smiling at the notion while dancing. EM Forster gave the titular hero of his posthumously published same-sex romantic tale Maurice a happy ending where so many queer stories then and since ended in sadness and tragedy, though he did not shy away from the details that made that ending so poignant. Romy’s life-affirming debut is in a different media and a very different time, but it is in the same noble cause, and she wears making one of the albums of the year all so lightly.

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