This week, one third of the band The xx, Romy Madley Croft, releases her debut solo album, Mid Air – it’s pretty fabulous, and yes, a review will be found here tomorrow.
Its roots, not surprisingly, are firmly in the territory the band she inhabited with Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith, thrived, especially their glorious 2017 album, I See You, a record of sensuality and dance and questions about where to love, how much to love, and when it’s too late.
And this is where Wind Back Wednesday, flicking back the pages of the calendar, has landed.
I See You (Remote Control)
OOH YES, THIS IS THE ADULT business. I See You glides where once The xx shuffled; it elaborates where once they elided. And as bizarre as it might sound to anyone who has indulged in the first two xx albums, it practically dances.
And no, not some sad sack move in an empty room on another night the world went on ignoring you. This involves someone across from you, someone who chose to be there.
Most clearly though, I See You is a full-frontal sensual journey. What once had been hinted at in absence, alluded to in elliptical phrases, musical as much as lyrical, now sits upfront and - maybe even more than ever – personal. (Well, as much as can be assumed, for as ever these are songs open to interpretation as to source/subject, but never as to meaning.)
With Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim feeling their oats, voices are a tad more prominent and more uncluttered, their messages not blurred. “I’ve been a romantic for so long, all I’ve ever had are love songs.”
Bodies and minds are entwined, even in retrospect, even in absence. This is an album where you can feel the warmth of another body, even if that body has already left the bed.
Tensions remain, for The xx haven’t turned into a good time band: insecurity remains and love and lust feel rocky still; crashed on those rocks at times. But even then, even when a lover you thought was waiting for you to sort out your “issues” has moved on, there’s an alluring emotional core.
“I don’t blame you, we got carried away,” sings Madley Croft in On Hold which makes neat use of a manipulated Hall & Oates sample for both yacht rock sliding groove and romantic ache. “I can’t hold on to an empty space.”
To which Sim responds “Now you’ve found a new star to orbit. It could be love, I think you're too soon to call us old. When and where did we go cold? I thought I had you on hold.”
The third leg of the group, Jamie Smith, aka Jamie xx, produces with a remarkable turn on the standard xx sound. Basically he has made an internal band sound external, but not just by inverting things – that would have been too easy and too obvious.
This isn’t a wholly new band, it is rather an extension of the band we knew, a maturation possibly, but definitely an expansion: of thought, emotion, confidence and expression.
The most obvious statement is made right from the off with some parping brass almost heralding the arrival of the new. It’s the lead in to the brisk, high groove Dangerous which lightly scatters its drum sounds, takes its bass parts as the bones of the song and then blows blithely by.
However, less obvious but ultimately more telling is how a song such as A Violent Noise, which is in most part a familiar xx shape – a touch of mournfulness, a curve of rhythm, a decoration of resistance - doesn’t stay in the hunched shoulders state the band might once have been happy with.
Instead, you can feel it straighten confidently, pushing through the curtain of electronics and moving inexorably. It is only after it finishes that its expansion of the xx manner hits you, preparing in a way for I Dare You which is lushly optimistic and smoothly propulsive but most of all gorgeously pretty pop.
Such are the movements and expansions within I See You that when the album closes with Test Me, with Madley Croft lightly stepping over a piano figure - Sim on almost lost echo and what could be a French horn, subtly reinforcing – there is an expectation that sparseness will not rule here. And it doesn’t, neither sonically nor emotionally.
The xx haven’t become over sharers but in the way of proper adult business, they are not for withholding.