Diamond Rings Free Dimensional(Astralwerks) Buy it from Insound
In 2008, John O'Regan, lead singer of post punk band The D'Urbervilles, was diagnosed and hospitalized for Crohn’s disease, which led to his being confined to a hospital bed for an extended period of time. It was during this time of extensive recuperation that his electro-pop alter ego Diamond Rings was born. A far cry from his work with The D'Urbervilles, O'Regan glammed up and dropped his distinctive baritone over candy-swirl beats and hypnotic synths and his resulting debut album, Special Affections, was littered with dancefloor neuroses and syrupy pop melodies. But despite the sugary rush of these tracks, there was a jaggedness that lent them a more serious tone--a leftover from his time in the hospital possibly. This atypically resonant dance music felt separate and distant from the club-friendly throwaways that littered strobe-soaked floors and pop radio stations. I mention this because the same musical markers that painted his debut as so immediately significant are rendered virtually non-existent by the over-blown dance pop production which neuters a good deal of his sophomore album Free Dimensional.
The albums opens with Everything Speaks, a simmering, synth-dotted lounger that manages to impress despite it faux-optimistic platitudes. Though what draws your attention most is how polished and seemingly smoothed-out the production sounds in comparison to his debut. In fact, the deep trawling vocals that smeared real emotion over inverted dance clichés on Special Affections have been replaced with a generally edgeless, dull imitation. Despite this vocal distraction, O’Regan still knows how to throw together a track that sticks somewhere deep in your brain and refuses to let go. In spite of its flaws, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be humming this song before the day is over. As globs of tacky synths drip down follow-up All The Time, you get a sense that, while he may have matured a bit in the intervening years since his debut, the feeling of exploration that coated that first record has all but evaporated. He’s comfortable, and that makes these songs feel more accessible and much less significant.
There are a few tracks here that reanimate that sense of excitement which permeated his previous record but they are few and far between. Runaway Love, with its great melody and thumping synth lines, represents a high point on the record, though the MOR guitars that infuse the chorus feel slightly dated and out of place. Hand Over My Heart and Put Me On make the best use of this plasticine production, as each maintains a glittering melody that is awash in vibrant beats and synth oscillations. The album falters more noticeably toward the second half, as its generic dance tendencies outweigh O’Regan’s instinct for varied instrumentation and lyrical profundity. Electro-pop has never been seen as a bastion of insight, but on Special Affections, the glossy lyrics, much like the music, seemed infused with a bitterness and a regret absent from the majority of his peers’ music. And tracks like A To Z and Day & Night, with their banal pop appearance and underdeveloped construction do little to reaffirm his place as a relevant proprietor of sparkling synth pop.
Free Dimensional ultimately feels more frustrating than forgettable though. O’Regan has done this before and with a sharper focus and a finer attention to the details. However, there are moments when you think that he might have found that particular rhythm and pulse that he rode throughout his debut, but it always seems to fall apart before he can get into a sustainable groove. Even with the few memorable songs here, there never seems to be a concerted effort made to tie them together. Everything feels thematically scattered. There are a few really good individual songs but the album never feels unified in any obvious way. Though as disposable as this album can seem, there is hope that he still has that innate ability to make music which appeals to the heart as well as the hips, but Free Dimensional fails to find a convenient common ground. If O’Regan can quiet those somewhat erratic impulses and allow the music to speak for itself, unadorned, he may find that emotional commonality which was so clearly evident on his debut but seems so distant here.30 October, 2012 - 18:10 — Joshua Pickard