Rex Orange County’s Who Cares? is a strong leap forward compared to the artist’s past releases, but the album’s lyrics and structure still leave a lot of room for improvement.
23-year-old Alexander O’Conner’s fourth studio album under the name Rex Orange County had been in the works for almost a year and a half. Having grown since his past releases, Rex showcases his extra maturity and experience in an album that stands out as more risky, consistent, innovative, and fun.
In 2017, Rex Orange Country was featured on hip-hop artist Tyler, The Creator’s album Flower Boy, which was released to critical acclaim. Rex’s appearances on the tracks “Foreword” and “Boredom” put him in the mainstream spotlight with a lot more pressure and anticipation to release a great album.
Three years later he decided to play it safe with simple piano ballads and cookie-cutter pop songs on Pony. The songs were incredibly simple and predictable and the vocals were unimaginative. Some songs stood out as strong and emotional, but there were few subtleties and the flow was choppy. The writing process was stressful on Pony, Rex saying that, “I felt like I was torturing myself trying to write”.
On Who Cares?, Rex got help from Benny Sings, an experienced songwriter and producer that Rex took inspiration from for his music. Sings makes this album more vintage sounding, which adds a new dynamic and motif that was absent in previous releases. Benny Sings and his experience is a useful contributor, and makes Who Cares? feel mature and fully fledged.
The album effortlessly transitions between orchestral strings and the simple bedroom pop percussion and guitar, giving it a unique genre-bending sound. The rich instruments give a familiar and playful sound, having quirky characteristics that liven up the track and provide you with an intimate feeling similar to a small concert. Little snippets and sounds come in and out and supply the tracks with another layer of detail that make you appreciate the attention that went into this album.
The lyrics are simple, straightforward, and talk about love and self-acceptance in a way that is clearly meant to appeal to the teenage angsty love-sick demographic. Though Rex’s lyrics may be from the heart, they just don’t have the complexity that would make his portrayed emotions come across to the listener. In the track “Keep It Up”, the uncomplicated lyrics talk about mental health and motivation in a direct and boring manner: “Every time I open my mouth/I have regrets in my mind, every time/And no one seems to figure me out,” Rex sings. Even if the album is meant to be lighthearted and simple, the lyrics are one of the weakest aspects of Who Cares?
His voice glides over Who Cares? effortlessly but is so polished and clean that it left little space for nuance or emotion. In parts of “One In A Million” Rex’s gravelly voice provided a feeling that extended upon the simple lyrics unlike the rest of the tracks. As well, the single voice of Rex on almost all tracks provides a one-dimensional dynamic that often left them feeling empty, which was easier to see after Tyler, The Creator’s raspy deep voice that perfectly fit on the one collaborative track on Who Cares?, “Open a Window.” A vocalist with a higher pitch or a different vocal tone than Rex would’ve made some of the solo songs on Who Cares? more dynamic like Rex did on Tyler’s 2017 song Boredom.
The album isn’t consistent, and there are definitely tracks that are weaker and slow down the album and make it feel bloated. But overall, it was a big leap in the right direction when compared to his previous album. Rex is still young, and he has lots of growing as an artist to come.
Cover Image: Universal Music