Artist: Rex Orange County
Label: Sony Music Entertainment
Released: 25 October 2019
"The great protector
Is that what I'm supposed to be?
What if all this counts for nothing
Everything I thought I'd be?
What if by the time I realize
It's too far behind to see?"
In 2017, Rex Orange County A.K.A English singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Alex O’Connor released his sophomore album Apricot Princess, which gained a lot of much deserved attention and praise particularly for its excellent production, catchy tunes, and impressive variety in style. The record showed off a skilful blend of pop, rock and classical elements that made Apricot Princess one of the standout pop records of the last few years, and now two years later O’Connor has followed it up with the much more pop and synth-oriented Pony.
I wasn’t extremely impressed by the release of Pony’s first single, 10/10, when it dropped back in September, mostly because of the big shift in instrumental style, which felt watered down in comparison to Apricot Princess. However, the song works far better in context with the release of the full album, setting the tone for a much lighter and upbeat album than anything Alex has made previously. Pony is a much more straight-forward pop album than its predecessor, and is confident enough in its execution for this to be one of its strengths. Songs such as Face to Face and Never had the balls are incredibly charming, and the change in style works perfectly for their tone, giving this record its own distinct feel to Apricot Princess.
However, the lyrical content on Pony is clearly an aspect of the record that is lacking in comparison to Apricot Princess. There are some standout moments such as the beautifully romantic Pluto Projector, as well as the excellent closing track It’s Not the Same Anymore, however there are many moments on the album that leave a lot to be desired compared to much of what Alex has released in the past. There isn’t anything particularly bad here, but songs such as Every Way do feel fairly clichéd and lack some of the lyrical style that his last album was starting to refine. Even saying this, Never had the Balls is still the cutest song I’ve heard all year no matter how endlessly cheesy it is, and I love it with all my heart.
By far the standout song on the album is the closing track It’s Not the Same Anymore, which shows off Alex’s writing ability in an incredibly catchy and emotional performance. Here Alex describes his struggle with mental health since his recent rise to fame, mentioning how things have just become more complicated rather than improved.
“My life was simple before
I should be happy, of course (Of course)
But things just got much harder
Now it’s just hard to ignore
It’s not the same anymore”
As well as being extremely authentic and heartfelt, the song also develops into a much more optimistic realisation which ends the album on a positive note, with Alex reassuring himself that he is in fact improving, even though it doesn’t always feel like it.
This track also demonstrates a compositional change, introducing instruments such as strings and saxophones back into the music, which have remained mostly absent throughout Pony, and shows how excellent he is at creating a more emotional piece of music utilizing these instruments. The synth-pop style of this album suits it well, and this last track manages to blend this with some sounds he’s experimented with previously, which hints at some possible directions he could take Rex Orange County in the future.
Even with some of the less developed lyrics and simpler sound of Pony, this is still a really charming and fun album. Showing a good mix of catchy pop tunes such as 10/10 and It Gets Better, as well as emotional performances in Pluto Projector and It’s Not the Same Anymore, there is always just enough variety here to keep Pony interesting. And although it isn’t as well-realised as it’s predecessor, it still makes for a heartfelt and worthwhile listen.