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THE XX / I SEE YOU

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Back in November, I reviewed On Hold by The XX and cited it as being my song of the year as my excitement started to build towards the band’s third album, I See You. Today sees the release of that album and I’m pleased to start this review by saying it’s excellent. Or…eXXcelent if you will.

Opening up with Dangerous, it’s clear from the off that the trio mean business with this album. It’s bold, confident and somehow fresh sounding despite having the obvious XX twang to it that we’ve all become accustomed to. My metaphorical hat (has to be metaphorical as I really don’t suit hats) will always be taken off to bands who venture in to new genres of music. It takes a lot of guts and although some don’t manage to pull it off, I have an immense amount of faith that The XX could produce an album solely using spoons as an instrument and it would be nothing less than phenomenal. Opening the track up with horns is a sure-fire way to grab someone’s attention as well. Definitely a potential candidate for the third single release.

Say Something Loving was released as the second single during the build up to this release and following suit from On Hold, it’s electro-pop at its absolute finest. Love is a common theme throughout the album as a whole but it manages to do it so subtly, it’s not in your face “lovey-doveyness” which the charts seem to have an abundance of throughout the year. Listening to this just makes me pine for long summer days.

Flowing perfectly in to Lips, this track has an almost Caribbean vibe throughout. This album was definitely produced with Summer in sight. It’s flawless in all aspects and if we did some sort of cheesy segment on the site of ‘One Word Reviews’, this album would be just that…FLAWLESS. We’re only three tracks in and I’ve already got my first contender for favourite album of 2017. The Caribbean undertone continues in to A Violent Noise with a powerful build up in to its melodic chorus. With tints of the 90’s club scene throughout, there’s something for everyone in this track.  The horns which open up the album also make an appearance which blends perfectly amongst the electro-gospel-pop-synth-indie-new romance genres the band seemingly explored whilst writing this track. One of the best on the album but I’m sure I could say that about every track.

Romy Madley Croft’s vocals are some of the finest I’ve ever heard and Performance proves to be the perfect stage to showcase these. It’s a heartfelt track about putting on a disguise and bottling up any form of emotion. If you really listen to the words, it’s quite heartbreaking but a perfect way to portray how you often feel. I can only imagine that this might have been inspired by the criticism the band often get for perhaps being a little lacklustre on stage but the argument against that is, if you’re as talented as The XX, you don’t need gimmicks, stage props or cheesy dancing around to put on an amazing show.
You can also view the lyrics as even more heartbreaking when put in to the context of a broken relationship…

“When you saw me leaving,
Did you think I had a place to go?
Since you stopped believing,
I’ve had to put on my own show.”

Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft’s vocals are the best combination since Fish & Chips, Lamb & Mint, Cheese & Toast and Salt & Pepper or Salt-N- Pepa if there your sort of thing. The only piece of evidence you need for this is Replica where they share sentences with only the most subtle of change noticed. These guys know each other so well, I can’t imagine two vocalists having more of an understanding of one another as these two. 

Brave for You is a tribute to Romy Madley Croft’s parents who are now both no longer with us. This being said, listening deeper in to the song, it could be about anyone who believes in you more than you believe in yourself. Something I’m sure all of The XX have had to get used to due to the overall shy nature that comes across when you see them in interviews. Even more so in the early days where they would barely look people in the eye and their live performances were spent gazing at the floor rather than the audience. I think they’ve grown in confidence over the years but their shyness adds an extra quality to them and makes them even more relatable. They are all extremely humble in their success as well and are just grateful for how well received their music has been. Brave For You is also The XX at their most “XX’y” with raw talent shining through amongst prolonged moments of silence building up with perfectly scattered strings and heavenly vocals.

I still love On Hold as much as I did in November and I can’t add to what I’ve already said so check out my review of On Hold here!

I Dare You is one of the more subtly pop-centric tracks on the album. With build-ups, key changes and to being with, an almost U2 guitar riff at the beginning. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Not that Bono could ever come close in terms of vocals. Sorry mate.

Test Me serves as a perfect closing track. It also happens to be my favourite on the album.  The production is flawless bringing an almost Brian Eno style production to proceedings. All credit to Jamie XX for that one. My aforementioned metaphorical hat is well and truly staying off to you.

Whilst trying to analyse this album, I realised that this is one of the bands most accessible album to date in that, they’re not conforming to tradition of having songs ladened with deep meaning, open for critical analysis. They’ve just produced some exceptionally brilliant music, allowing the listener to immerse themselves in this flawless talent. Some people would be put off by this but I love it. The XX have always been one of those bands for me that I can put on in the background and just chill out. I’ve no doubt that this album will do what the previous two did and be a hit with fans and critics alike. 

Words by Robert Smith(@robertmsmith)

I See You is out now.

1. ‘Dangerous’
2. ‘Say Something Loving’
3. ‘Lips’
4. ‘A Violent Noise’
5. ‘Performance’
6. ‘Replica’
7. ‘Brave For You’
8. ‘On Hold’
9. ‘I Dare You’
10. ‘Test Me’

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