Last week’s lead-up post to today’s review of Diamond Rings‘ Special Affections prompted one QBiM follower to tweet “I don’t get the hype yet…” about John O’Regan’s slick alter-ego, John O. The hype in question has been built on viral videos that inadvertently caused legal troubles and a series of singles that perfectly encapsulated the Diamond Rings experience: laptop generated electro-pop melodies that hearken back to the 80s and a deadpan vocal delivery that occasionally veers into the upper register, allowing the slightest glimmer of emotional attachment to show. For many, Diamond Rings smacked of novelty. Can you blame us for not knowing whether we should take the guy with a drawn on make-up mask seriously? When “All Yr Songs” and it’s accompanying video were first released, I too wondered what the hype was all about.
But now that Special Affections has arrived, I’m beginning to understand. Diamond Rings as a long player is a different beast from the singles he’s released this past year, almost unrecognizable in tone if not sound. I would not have expected the album to open with a sombre, minor chord mid-tempo number like “Play By Heart”, and yet there it is: a delicate piano-led melody laid on top of some dark and cavernous bongo beats is as far from kitschy as you can get while still having a rainbow painted across your face. “Wait & See” manages to sound heavy and oppressive even though it’s built on tinny sounding early electronic synth sounds, in much the same way that Depeche Mode managed to make their early records brooding while their contemporaries couldn’t escape the sunnier disposition of their keyboards. Few of the songs stand-out from the pack on Special Affections, but that’s not a criticism; the album plays as a solid whole because of it, giving it further substance. I’d recommend “On Your Own”, “You Oughta Know” and new single “Something Else” as entry points, but really, any song would be representative of Special Affections if taken on its own. The odd man out, interestingly enough, is early single “All Yr Songs”, relegated to the closing slot for the long player. Next to the newer songs where O’Reagan deftly adds guitars and backing vocals, it sounds like a demo, a rough idea that hasn’t been completely fleshed out yet.
So to the tweeter who said “I don’t get the hype yet…”: I find it interesting that you’ve employed the adverb ‘yet’ so as to imply that given time, you may make sense of the buzz. I say to all of you out there who are in a similar boat, that after hearing Special Affections, you’ll either finally ‘get it’ or not. It’s not the kind of album that’s going to set the world ablaze, but as an artistic statement and a counterpoint to O’Reagan’s more guitar-driven work with The D’Urbervilles, Special Affections crackles, pops and sparks with energy and wit, threatening to morph from a bonfire to an inferno before your very eyes.
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MP3: Diamond Rings “Something Else”
Video: Diamond Rings “Something Else”
MP3: Diamond Rings “Wait & See”
Video: Diamond Rings “Wait & See”
Video: Diamond Rings “Show Me Your Stuff”
Video: Diamond Rings “All Yr Songs”
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