Alexander James O'Connor, more commonly known as Rex Orange County's new album “WHO CARES?” showcases a new side of the artist for his fans and family.
Since releasing his 2017 single, “BEST FRIEND,” O'Connor has formed a career on marketing his sadness in the form of power-pop ballads and luscious string arrangements. 2017’s "Apricot Princess" catapulted him to stardom, helped along by his verse on Tyler the Creator’s “Boredom” off his Flower Boy project.
While O'Connor has written about melancholy and love for most of his career, his latest album reveals a happier and healthier mindset. Songs that used to be full of moody strings and introspective lyricism have evolved into a more formulaic songwriting format. Even though the transitions can feel somewhat jarring, it indicates a musical evolution — even if some songs feel unfinished.
“OPEN A WINDOW” features a verse from frequent collaborator Tyler the Creator and indicates that this album will be different from previous projects. This song features wonderful sequencing and Tyler’s verse stays no longer than it needs to. As the first track, it starts the album out strong and foreshadows the change in direction from his last album.
“WORTH IT” features grand string arrangements and piano that pulsates through the song, while the horns provide a steady accompaniment for O'Connor to place his voice front and center in the mix. It transitions from a horn-centered melody to an atmospheric bridge and continues the theme of songs feeling more like thought-out arrangements.
“ONE IN A MILLION” is an example of O'Connor's new approach to songwriting leading to mixed results. The hook feels ingenuine and forced, and the strings and drums clash against one another instead of working together.
The song is very ballad-inspired by design, but it feels difficult to embrace because it feels contrived and not original. He sings, “There's no one quite like you/You're one of one, one in a million, woah,” which could be compared to many different couples. It feels like easy listening music, elevator music with a slightly grander budget and purpose.
“THE SHADE” marks one of the few times O'Connor talks about depression, and even then, it feels like a watered-down version of his previous work. When he sings, “I would love just to be stuck to your side/Not with anybody else, anybody else/Please don’t go," it's something lesser songwriters could have gotten away with, but from O'Connor, it feels lazy and simplistic in a way that harms him rather than helps him.
In searching for relatability in love, O'Connor has simply created another love-centered album in a saturated field of love-centered albums.
“SHOOT ME DOWN” is the longest song on the album and is the only one longer than 3 minutes. In it, he sings, “Don’t shoot me down/I’ll stick around/We’ll do it somehow/I try my best to make it okay,” which comes off as an honest rationalization of a toxic relationship.
This song contains a majority of his most negative thoughts on the album, but O'Connor focuses on finding self-acceptance as his relationship suffers. His dedication to perseverance feels like a genuine breath of fresh air in the project, but its brevity is its weakness.
While the album clocks in at 35 minutes and 11 songs, none of them overstay their welcome. Albums should feel like an escape into a different world, Rex’s simply doesn’t feel sustainable.
Depression is often used as a justification to create good art, but O'Connor's writing on “WHO CARES?” feels lazy and unsubstantial. They start and end in the same place, and O'Connor's public image has grown in tandem with his career.
This album represents both growth and decay, and to further develop his artistic vision, Rex should focus on creating more experimental songs and enlisting more collaborators.