This Delicate Thing We’ve Made
he executive summary of Darren Hayes’ career up to this point would be that he sold millions of records as one-half of the accomplished but saccharine Savage Garden and then committed complete commercial suicide with 2004’s The Tension and the Spark, probably the messiest, saddest, most unexpectedly brilliant coming-out album ever created by a pop star, although the punchline had to wait a year or so, finally coming when he married his male partner in 2005.
A lot of people were worried that after that, he might retreat back into more commercial waters with the follow-up, but if anything, This Delicate Thing We’ve Made is even more radio-unfriendly. It’s easily more disturbed and downright strange than its predecessor. The album is both lyrically individualistic but heavily indebted sonically to some of Darren’s heroes, mostly from the 1980s. What we find out from this album is that he makes a curiously likeable male Madonna, a pretty decent Michael Jackson, and a convincing Tears For Fears. Sadly, he makes a lousy Prince and a downright embarrassing Kate Bush.
There’s some good stuff on here. Enough, you guessed it, for a good single album. At two discs, it’s paradoxically at once very poppy but simultaneously very heavy going and dangerously ballad-heavy. If you like Darren Hayes’ ballads, you’ll find them to be well-produced, nicely sung, and extremely interchangeable. The rest of the album has more spark and variety, fortunately, and about a quarter of the album is brilliant, innovative stuff.
“Step Into the Light” is the most immediate winner on offer here, its Steinman-gone-techno piano opening weaving around an incredibly claustrophobic lyric about falling in love for the first time and being completely terrified. When a chorus of Darrens bellows “it feels like love!” at the climax, it sounds like a man bemoaning a death sentence, only in glorious upper-register because he can. It’s my favorite song of 2007 so far, for what it’s worth.
“How to Build a Time Machine” is either one or zero steps from being childish sci-fi nonsense depending on your viewpoint but it’s audacious, expansive, and catchy, powered by blips, beeps, and bass to give the narrative tension and speed. “Casey” sounds like “Dear Jessie” by Madonna sung to a grown-up. “A Fear of Falling Under” and “Setting Sun” are both highly compressed, urgent throbs with precisely no dancefloor appeal but sound amazing on headphones. Likely second single “Me Myself and I” is a spastic disco Michael Jackson pastiche with a slightly ill-advised, but mercifully short rap in the middle.
What most of these highlights have in common is that they’re about Hayes’ little world of love, loss, fear, and the people that inspire those feelings in him. When he steps outside himself is where things get a little bit dicey.
“Bombs Up In My Face” is the worst song he’s ever done, perhaps what you might imagine Prince might sound like if you’d only ever had his music described by someone who hates music. “Great Big Disconnect” is a laughably earnest and melodically dull ‘message’ song with an acoustic guitar and awful lyrics about, ugh, the modern world in which we live and how there’s not a lot of love going around. Infuriatingly, most of the bad songs are bunched together, making listening to either disc start to finish quite a chore.
Likewise, while pretty and not altogether unpleasant (and making much less use of falsetto than previously), “Walk Away,” “Maybe,” “I Just Want You to Love Me,” and “The Only One” are worthy enough but dull low-tempo filler, and next to things like the shimmering ballad “Sing to Me” or the majestic orchestral synth-pop closer “Tuning of Violins,” sound distinctly lacking in imagination or melodic invention.
Essentially, the album’s strength and weakness is the same thing. Darren Hayes has a lot of ideas and wants you to have them all. He’s talented and knows it, and wants the world to know it. But some of the best writers in the world need to thank their editors and other people who are strong enough to say “no.” Hayes could do with one or two people to rein his ideas in. Expecting two brilliant albums in a row is a lot, but when flashes of This Delicate Thing We’ve Made indicate he’s more than up to delivering, you get disappointed when there’s so much well-intentioned but patience-shredding filler between the gems.
Reviewed by: Edward Oculicz
Reviewed on: 2007-08-20