Geoffrey O'Connor - "Whatever Leads Me to You" (Vanity is Forever)
There are certain cues to help signify over-the-top romanticism. One is the unadorned keyboard, best demonstrated on later-period Luna (think Romantica) and recent Scritti Politti. Both bands made memorable music that’s awash in keyboards and honestly-earned sentimentality. It’s a sound that, in 2011, can sound dated in the wrong hands; hell, it’s a sound that could have sounded dated at any time after 1988 or so. And it’s this same sound that Geoffrey O’Connor — of the Australian indie-pop group Crayon Fields — chose for Vanity is Forever, his first album released under his given name.
Crayon Fields’ music has an abundant amount of romantic tendencies. O’Connor’s voice is able to sound at once wounded and robust (reminiscent somewhat of Comet Gain’s David Feck), and Vanity is Forever accentuates both of those tendencies. From listening to the opener, “So Sorry,” one might be left with the impression that O’Connor’s solo debut is engaging in musical nostalgia at the expense of a clearly defined sound. The keyboards usher in a soaring melody, with O’Connor’s sometimes multi-tracked vocals trafficking in regret. It’s catchy, but it also veers dangerously close to the generic.
Over time, the glossy keyboards of the album’s first half give way to a more subdued sound. The more starkly arranged songs on the album — such as “Expensive,” which features little more than voice and guitar — are more immediately arresting, and suggest that O’Connor isn’t going the obvious route in evoking a familiar sound from the past. Yes, a keyboard is at the center of the song that follows (“Now & Then”), but its melody is a subdued and plaintive one, as opposed to the swooning melodies of the earlier “Whatever Leads Me to You.” At its best, then, Vanity is Forever seems to be an album where the nostalgic references are intentional: New Wave as touchstone rather than simply gazing backward fondly.
O’Connor is a both a talented songwriter and someone who arranges songs with the album format in mind; there is a clear emotional and sonic progression over the course of Vanity is Forever. The fact that certain songs here seem less specific to O’Connor’s own brand of pop and more to a general scene and sound now decades behind us stands as Vanity is Forever‘s chief flaw. Alternately: The points where O’Connor’s own strengths and idiosyncrasies crop up make their absence elsewhere that much more noticeable.