Troye Sivan’s second album has already set up a good deal of chat. Some of it on quality; some of it on matters pertaining to activities not necessarily automatically attached to popular song, such as openness about explorations of identity.
And no I don’t mean being a West Australian of South African Jewish background. After all, while since Curtin we won’t elect them PM (ask Kim Beazley and Julie Bishop – so far), we don’t really think West Australians are that weird. Yes, even Kevin Parker is kinda normal. Some days.
The most provocative thing Troye Sivan does on Bloom is not its exploration of the flowering of sexual desire, and its accompanying emotional peaks and aftershocks. That is frank and bare and tender and strong, and very well done. Nor is it in any way new to music, even in the delayed-puberty society on which Australian music built its reputation.
Furthermore, in The Good Side, Sivan has the kind of song which takes lust to its next stage – a mature grasp of differing needs; the nature of “normal” lives being shaded by a partner with fame and freedom; the gratitude for opening the way into a life even if that guide must be left behind – and packages it in a swaying gem of a sweet ballad that has glistening keyboards, an even shinier melody, and the kind of irresistible appeal that careers can be built on.
It’s not the fact that there’s more than a few suggestions of under-age sex generally across the album, and quite explicitly in Seventeen. Really, that’s hardly new to pop and rock, or blues and folk, and as Rufus Wainwright (writing when a bit older than the 23-year-old Sivan) showed some time back, the dynamic of age and exploration, desire and an element of fear in boys and older men is potent territory for exploration and understanding.
It’s not even the metaphorical overload within the lyrics of the title track, which is about anal sex - though really, only if you know it is: its elements are both vague enough and general enough to be about anything and nothing in particular. Once you do know what it’s about actually you might find the metaphorical journey a tad florid.
What is most shocking about Bloom is that it is a pop album about all those things, by a young artist whose connection to the zeitgeist is as good as its ever going to be, which wholly avoids the instant hook/explosive chorus/uptempo jam formula and maybe even gives its best moments to its quietest turns.
The duet with Ariana Grande, Dance To This, the aforementioned Seventeen (which is the second most 1980s teen flick sound of very worked drums and reverb to be found on the record) and the title track, come closest maybe to something stupid hits radio might jump at, as do What A Heavenly Way To Die and My My My!, the latter of them tweaking its backing vocals into a hint of big choir.
But really, those songs show that this is an album more inclined to some Drake-style sliding-into-the-groove that might induce dad dancing in a daggy sweater, than a high-cut shorts bounce around. That’s especially true of Dance To This which is in cruise mode the whole way, so that even a biggish drum fill two and half minutes in works as a tease, almost a punctuation, rather than a flick to an inevitable climax. It’s a cracking piece of almost minimalist pop.
Similarly contained (rather than constrained) is Plum, which leans in rather than jumps into its chorus, letting a neat little guitar figure, that hints at both Spanish novelty pop and Nile Rogers working with David Bowie, do the heavy lifting.
This approach only really falters on Lucky Strike, which can’t find its route from just withheld to flowering with any certainty.
The most potent tracks on Bloom may well be the slow and slower ones. They’re the ones that will be most covered on TV talent shows in coming years at the very least: The Good Side, Animal and Postcard.
Postcard, which features Sydney electronica artist Gordi, starts with stately piano chords and a tone that implies some heartbreak ahead, but in fact holds itself more at contemplative and wistful. The treatment of the voices in the chorus play with electronic sounds but doesn’t tip over into an obvious grandeur; the production generally offering three or four elements when others might have loaded in drama.
If Seventeen feels like an ‘80s soundtrack song, Animal sounds like a whole ‘80s playlist in one: bits of Phil Collins and Dire Straits, Berlin and Icehouse, and even at one point the suggestion of a U2 moment coming up.
And yet for all that it only stands in the vicinity of excess, never actually venturing forth into that neighbourhood. It’s as if someone said let’s make a pop album about going all the way that doesn’t go all the way.
Which, if you think about it, may be the most shocking thing about Bloom.