Rex Orange County — informally known as Alexander James O’Connor — has released his fourth album titled Who Cares? under RCA Records. In recent years, this singer/songwriter has become quite the poster boy for that lo-fi, bedroom pop sound beloved by many. From his impressive, self-produced LP Apricot Princess to platinum hits like “Loving Is Easy (feat. Benny Sings),” his music always seems to be just the thing for those chill summer evenings. That being said, Who Cares? has it’s brief flashes of brilliance, but fails to hit the mark in more ways than one.
Suspenseful strings accompany Rex throughout the album, however none of the tracks are nearly as dramatic as they’d lead listeners to believe. At times, the violins create smooth transitions into an easygoing melody; think of the groovy, foot-tapper “ONE IN A MILLION.” While other times, they’re disconnected from the rest of the song. For instance, “KEEP IT UP” is patched together with brooding strings, hasty drums and a perky piano. Instead of all of them blending together in pleasant unison, the stark differences clash in a way that feels clumsy. Lackluster instrumentation is an irksome theme on this project — fortunately it doesn’t sacrifice the quality completely.
Rex harps on feeling stuck in a variety of different ways. The most notable example is in the R&B infused “OPEN A WINDOW” featuring Tyler, The Creator (a memorable duo on Tyler’s 2017 album Flower Boy).
“So can I open a window?
Can somebody open the door?
There’s so many reasons
I can barely take it anymore”
It’s interesting. Symbolically speaking, he has the ability to open a window or others can choose to free him, yet he remains trapped. Our greatest obstacles are both external and internal, but it’s often the latter that leaves us feeling the most defeated. It’s arguably the best out of all eleven tracks, as the ominous strings complement Rex’s rhythmic flow and gentle runs. Not to mention, Tyler’s comically clever verse adds to its appeal (“You stuck, then move, because I’m running, like sinus”).
Rex is no stranger to the artsy pop scene, and he plays his part well. However, Who Cares? falls short of creative exploration, particularly in terms of arrangement. The oddly deceptive start in “WORTH IT” stumbles awkwardly into more jovial horns, clearing the way for confusion. The lyrics provide shallow insight into one of the many factors that can cause us to feel stuck: change. “It’s not worth it anymore, I feel insane / And I’m not sure why things change.” This song, among others, seems to toe the line of lyrical depth, but never actually treads too far from safety. It’s around the time track seven, “7AM” rolls around that the words “okay, I get it” rested on the tip of my tongue. While it’s an honest sentiment about the fear of failure, the buoyant piano combined with recurring strings distract from any intense takeaways that could’ve been.
Rex uses a witty double entendre in the closing title track “WHO CARES?” to assert his indifference toward the opinions of others (“There’s really no point in living in fear”), but also to ponder who really cares about him in the end. While not as gripping as the previous track “SHOOT ME DOWN” — a theatrical declaration of confidence with a pulsating bass and climactic drums — it’s still a fine wrap-up of the singer’s overall message.
The self-reflective composition easily upstages the repetitive, clunky instrumentation lingering throughout the album. Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much since the lyrics only strike a chord every so often. It’s conflicting because there are moments when it seems like he’s going in the right direction, but then altogether it creates a conglomeration of monotony rather than simply cohesion. Stand out tracks like “SHOOT ME DOWN” and “IF YOU WANT IT” are refreshing breaks from the onslaught of upbeat disarray.
Rex Orange County addresses topics of looming uncertainty, succumbing to the mercy of love, and overcoming your fears on this album. Despite the cramped production and overuse of mirroring rhythmic patterns, Who Cares? demonstrates the blueprint for potential success, but inevitably falters by playing it far too safe.