So glad it took me a while to get to reviewing this CD by Rex Orange County, the British singer-songwriter. It seems that many in Rex O.C. fandom are a little underwhelmed by his latest effort. However, this may be because they haven’t spent enough time with it.
Also, capitalizing the titles of albums is some sort of new trend, apparently. This is the second album in a row I’ve reviewed that is stylized that way. The previously reviewed album, HEIGHTS by Walk The Moon, was brilliant and so too is the latest from Rex Orange County.
A strictly mellow affair, WHO CARES? maintains his signature sound with more consistent results. Some fans have said the songs kind of sound the same, but repeat listens demonstrate this is not the case. Sure, Rex has a sound, and he’s decided not to tamper with it too much. Instead, he has simply made a few adjustments to reflect his growth as an artist.
Rexy (as the faithful call him) starts in familiar territory with “KEEP IT UP,” which is not only the power cut but the first single. It’s that patented ‘70s, smooth vibe, sweetened by strings.
Taking a page out of The Beach Boys’ recording story, Rex recorded in Holland. His collaborator on the album is Dutch musician Benny Sings. Tyler the Creator turns up on the track “OPEN A WINDOW,” though it sounds more like a traditional Rex O.C. song than a straight-up collab.
“WORTH IT,” though it starts slowly, is one of the best tracks on the album. Here, 70s-influenced Rex echos the ‘90s, as the tune’s backing tracks recall Inspiral Carpets’ 1990 hit “This Is How it Feels.” Oddly, it doesn’t appear to be slated as a single.
It’s straight to the album’s core sound with “AMAZING,” which was the second single. Things slow down even more for “ONE IN A MILLION.” The latter gives Rex a chance to croon like a proper jazz singer.
The pace picks up a bit with “IF YOU WANT.” With his vocals going through a filter, his vocals remind one of early Strokes, but with strings.
The track that sounds most like his previous work is probably “7 AM,” replete with plaintive vocals and the strategically placed f-bomb. “What if I’m not cut out for this/And I just want to call it quits,” Rex sings, revealing a little self-doubt, perhaps? Not likely for one of the UK’s top singer-songwriters.
It’s still the ‘70s, but funkier, with “THE SHADE,” which completes the vibe right down to the title. This track is also a stand-out and would make a great single. The keyboard bits in the background provide a great hook. “I went out to Amsterdam, just so I could give you some space,” Rex sings, giving us a little glimpse into this album’s background and inspiration.
Making albums is hard, especially for a dedicated fan base, which Rex certainly has. Do you stick with your signature sound, or reinvent? Thankfully Rex Orange County has found a happy medium. Listeners just need to let it sink in.
PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.