Are you ready to weep? Here come sad Londoners the XX with a brand new album and following on from Jamie's solo success it sounds like they've brought some upbeat dance floor energy into their misery. Hall and Oates sampling lead single 'On Hold' shows them sounding relatively upbeat. Comes on all sorts of different formats.
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I remember watching an interview with the XX just after they won the Mercury Prize where some foolish interviewer suggested that they beef up their sound for their second record. You could see the trio visibly recoil and thankfully on 'Co-Exist' they only subtly tweaked their sound rather than add the bells and knobs that actual knobs at record companies might suggest they do to maximise profits/destroy their sound.
However three albums in and it's probably time to offer something different (though if they were Low they'd just carry on carefully tweaking) and so the success of this much anticipated record could be judged by how the XX blend their original stark minimalistic approach with something a bit more glossy. Opener 'Dangerous' pretty much succeeds by way of an excellent bass line (one that reminds me of Paul Simonen's on 'Straight to Hell') and a lovely chorus boasting a a pleasant melodica type sound. 'Say Something Loving' tries the same trick adding in clever beats and subtle samples. It suffers a bit from trying a bit too hard and could be just as effective at half its length. They are really shoehorning in those vocals.
The key then to the record is how the XX bring their late night ballads into the open. Sometimes it feels way overdone. 'A Violent Noise' has too much of the feel-good cheese house of Jamie XX's 'In Colour' and wipes away emotion in silliness but they follow it with 'Performance' which if you have to go down the Adele ballad route is perhaps the best way of doing it. Lead single 'On Hold' stands out as being perky but take away the earworm Hall and Oates sample they slopped on and it loses something. The song is faintly ridiculous, emotionally touching and insanely catchy.
Which brings me back to what I originally thought about the XX when they released their debut, that they are the acceptable side of the unacceptable stuff and their kind of overwrought balladry is saved by clever production that makes it sound more experimental than it actually is. The fact that I could seriously hear both 'Performance' and 'Brave For You' from this album performed by some precocious wannabee on the X Factor, tears streaming down Cheryl's face proves that this lot are no wan indie balladeers anymore. They are, despite themselves a more commercial proposition but whether this appeals still to fans of their earlier gloom remains to be seen.
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