Album Review: Rex Orange County - 'Pony'
Izzy talks us through the latest offering from rapidly growing indie sensation Rex Orange County, which demonstrates a more mature side to the young artist.
The rising star Alex O’Connor – most commonly known by his stage name Rex Orange County – has released his third album in as many years this week. Having experienced a monumental rise to fame in the space of just three years, O’Connor has not only recorded with Tyler, The Creator and gone on tour with Frank Ocean, but also bagged the headliner spot on the Park Stage at Glastonbury Festival this year, all before the age of 21. With this ever-growing list of achievements, you’d think O’Connor was living the dream, though this is not the case according to his latest album, Pony, which highlights that he has already experienced the ugly side to fame.
In contrast to the bittersweet, romantic optimism that Rex Orange County is known for from previous singles Loving is Easy or Sunflower, Pony is more sombre in subject matter, as it delineates the pressures of the music industry, his struggles with relationships and mental health and how he fought to escape these dark times. Throughout the album, a melancholy narrative of feeling trapped by his work is illustrated through O’Connor’s lyrics, which not only demonstrates his talent to transform these tough experiences into brief moments of euphoria for listeners, but also humanises him, despite him being an idolised figure in today’s expanding genre of indie-pop and neo soul. While O’Connor has clearly developed as an artist with noticeably smoother production and more serious subject matters, he has managed to retain his authentic character, with his signature layered vocals, honest lyrics and sentimental sound.
'With this ever-growing list of achievements, you’d think O’Connor was living the dream, though this is not the case according to his latest album, Pony'.
The album opens with the pre-released single, 10/10. While listening to the upbeat, synth-filled, positive melody it is surprising to hear the lyrics are more serious in nature. It seems an apt opener, as the lyrics generally represent the themes of the album as a whole; addressing his struggles and pain, yet also being kind to himself with a hopeful note throughout: ‘Give myself a little credit / Since I dealt with all the pain’. The catchy chorus hooks the listener into the following nine tracks, setting a strong precedent for the rest of the album.
A considerable amount of the songs on Pony describe O’Connor’s struggles with personal relationships. The shortest song on the album, Stressed Out, boldly calls out his friends in gentle layered vocals: ‘They wanna lie and still be friends / But when you’re at your worst they’re not there’. While tunes such as Face To Face and Never Had The Balls are more jaunty and cheerful, again this is not necessarily mirrored in the lyrics. Pluto Projector is a slower, more sombre piece with emotive vocals and a cinematic feel to it due to the song building to a romantic orchestral section of strings towards the end.
'It delineates the pressures of the music industry, his struggles with relationships and mental health and how he fought to escape these dark times'.
The final two songs conclude the album in a more positive light. It Gets Better brings about immediate optimism with a faster tempo, electronic R&B beats mixed with orchestral strings and the most positive lyrics on the whole album: ‘Look how far we’ve come / Look at us now / Oh-oh, we’re flying, I finally know I’m here for a reason / Thank you for waiting on me’ – it’s not all doom and gloom! The album finishes with 6 minute track It’s Not The Same Anymore, which seems an apt conclusion as the lyrics are more reflective. Although it starts in a woeful manner – ‘Cause it’s not the same anymore / I lost the joy in my face / My life was simple before’ – it ends on a hopeful note – ‘It’s better / It got better’ – paired with uplifting orchestral strings at the end.
Pony is a heart rending, yet hopeful third studio album from Rex Orange County which highlights O’Connor’s talent as a developing artist and sincere songwriter.