rex orange county, known informally as alexander james o’connor, has released his fourth album titled who cares? under rca records. in recent years, this singer-songwriter has become quite the epitome of that lo-fi bedroom pop sound beloved by many. From his stunning self-produced LP Apricot Princess to platinum-selling hits like “Loving Is Easy (feat. Benny Sings),” his music always seems to be perfect for those chilly summer nights. That being said, who cares? it has its brief flashes of brilliance, but it misses the mark in more ways than one.
suspenseful strings accompany rex throughout the album, yet none of the tracks are as dramatic as listeners are led to believe. sometimes the violins create smooth transitions in a calm melody; think of the wonderful “one in a million.” while other times, they are disconnected from the rest of the song. for example, “keep it up” is paired with melancholic strings, rushing drums, and upbeat piano. instead of everyone blending in in unison, the stark differences collide in a way that feels clunky. mediocre instrumentation is a nagging issue on this project; fortunately, it doesn’t sacrifice quality entirely.
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rex insists on feeling stuck in a variety of different ways. The most notable example is in the R&B-infused “Open A Window” with Tyler, the creator (a memorable duet on Tyler’s 2017 album Flower Boy).
“so, can I open a window?
can someone open the door?
there are so many reasons
I can hardly take it anymore”
It’s interesting. Symbolically speaking, he has the ability to open a window or others may choose to free him, but he remains trapped. Our biggest obstacles are both external and internal, but it’s often the latter that leaves us feeling the most defeated. It’s arguably the best of the eleven tracks, as the ominous strings complement Rex’s rhythmic flow and smooth runs. Not to mention, Tyler’s comically clever verse adds to his appeal (“you stuck, then move on, ’cause I’m running, like sinusitis”).
rex is no stranger to the art-pop scene, and he plays his part well. however, who cares? it falls short of creative exploration, particularly in terms of arrangement. The oddly misleading opening on “It’s Worth It” awkwardly trips over more jovial horns, clearing the way for confusion. the lyrics provide a cursory glimpse of one of the many factors that can make us feel stuck: change. “it’s not worth it anymore, I feel crazy / and I’m not sure why things change.” this song, among others, seems to follow the line of lyrical depth, but never really strays too far from assurance. It’s around time track seven, “7am” rolls and the words “okay, I get it” rest on the tip of my tongue. while it’s an honest sentiment about the fear of failure, the floating piano combined with recurring strings distract from whatever intense conclusion might have been.
rex uses a clever double entendre in the closing theme song “who cares?” to affirm his indifference towards the opinions of others (“there’s really no point in living in fear”), but also to reflect on who really cares for him in the end. while not quite as gripping as previous track “shoot me down,” a confident theatrical statement with throbbing bass and culminating drums, it’s still a good summary of the singer’s overall message.
the self-reflexive songwriting easily outshines the repetitive, crude instrumentation that persists throughout the album. unfortunately, that’s not saying much as the lyrics only strike a chord every once in a while. it’s conflicting because there are moments when it seems like it’s going in the right direction, but then as a whole it creates a conglomeration of monotony rather than just cohesion. standout tracks like “shoot me down” and “if you want it” are refreshing breaks from the onslaught of upbeat clutter.
rex orange county tackles themes of impending uncertainty, succumbing to love’s mercy, and overcoming your fears on this album. despite the limited production and overuse of mirror rhythmic patterns, who cares? demonstrates the blueprint for potential success, but inevitably fails by playing it too safe.