By: Grace Koennecke, Columns Editor
RCA Records; 2022
Key tracks: “WORTH IT,” “AMAZING,” “IF YOU WANT IT,” “THE SHADE”
The pandemic was a period of self-discovery and realization for Alex O’Connor, better known as Rex Orange County, the seemingly happy-go-lucky alternative singer. In an interview with Apple Music, the singer admitted that going into lockdown allowed him to realize the frustrations he was having with his career, escaping to Amsterdam with Dutch singer-songwriter Benny Sings to figure himself out again.
The two had worked together before on arguably one of O’Connor’s best songs “Loving Is Easy” in 2017 and as a result of their escape plan, they ended up creating WHO CARES? O’Connor told Apple Music that Sings is “an incredibly productive force,” saying, “Every day, it’s like four or five ideas. His choice of chords, his instrumentation, the sense, his vocals, his melodies, everything – I love his music. We’re cut from the same cloth.”
Read more: Album Review: Rex Orange County – Pony
O’Connor and Sings’ collaboration was highly anticipated by avid Rex Orange County listeners, but failed to leave a mark on the fast-paced, ever changing atmosphere of 2022. With constant repetition of orchestra-backed choruses and lackluster lyrics, the album manages not to fall apart with the help of a few breakout tracks that feel like you have to keep ripping away at their layers to truly understand them.
The first two tracks of WHO CARES?, “KEEP IT UP” and “OPEN A WINDOW” ft. Tyler, The Creator didn’t highlight O’Connor’s goal of wanting listeners to feel his newfound sense of peace or the acceptance he has found within himself. Instead, they are too similar in their uses of synths and piano, causing one to get lost in what kind of music journey the singer is trying to take listeners on.
“WORTH IT” is not an amazing track by any means, sounding exactly like “KEEP IT UP” with its instrumentation and production, but the introduction perfects what inner turmoil truly feels like, at least according to O’Connell. Imitating a siren wailing at the beginning, this track is the singer giving insight into how he doesn’t feel worthy anymore, and instead feels insane and burnt out as an artist. It seems like Rex Orange County can’t keep up with the demands of his career, asking what’s the point of even continuing with music throughout. Overall, it’s vulnerable in tone but lacks character.
Next comes “AMAZING,” a jazzy, sensual track about witnessing love at first sight. Unlike the heaviness present in the tracks before it, O’Connell seems to have found a person that he truly can’t see himself without. He sings of how “amazing” this person really is, assuring them they will never have to change for him. In his eyes, the subject is perfect and has saved him from the misery he was once experiencing. At the end of the day, it’s a light and playful love song, acting as a reminder that O’Connell hasn’t lost his musical ability to make listeners feel like they are on cloud nine.
O’Connell finally steers away from integrating orchestral moments into every track and plays around with robotic synths to produce “IF YOU WANT IT,” the standout on the whole album. The singer confesses that he worries too much, which in turn affects the person they love. The track is a plea for this person to continue to stay with and love them, taking full blame for the downfalls of their relationship. Truly putting his heart on display, O’Connell admits that his anxiety gets the best of him and wants to be able to open up to his lover, even if it hurts one of them in the end.
One of the final tracks that manages to leave some impact is “THE SHADE,” a powerful homage to the person O’Connor clearly is in love with. He confesses that he is always watching out for this person, desperately trying to prove their love for them. It’s the perfect bedroom-pop, intimate confessional fans tend to admire from Rex Orange County, with solid harmonies to boot. “Please don’t go” is repeated heavily throughout, alluding to the major theme of never wanting to let go of the person you believe you’ll love forever.
Besides its few highlights, WHO CARES? is an underwhelming project by Rex Orange County who is admittedly a talented artist, but is also an artist who has become too relaxed with his lyrics and production quality. With all 11 tracks, the singer could’ve done a lot more to prove himself, but sadly didn’t rise to the occasion.