Dev Hynes – aka Blood Orange – is back as his latest manifestation, releasing new record Cupid Deluxe to follow 2011’s critically acclaimed Coastal Grooves. Once again, it’s a retrospective affair; tales of disappointment and regret are juxtaposed with 80’s inspired basslines and muted beats.
Lead single ‘Chamakay’ – inspired by Hynes’ trip to Guyana – begins the album with a delicate sparsity, intermittent glockenspiel interweaving with female vocals to create a ‘world music’ vibe. A mournful duet, Hynes croons about ‘heartache at its best’. The opener also introduces us to several thematic elements of the record. The use of female vocals, often used in harmonies to complement Hynes, adds a third dimension to the album, particularly on later track – and exercise in being hugely depressing – ‘Always Let U Down’. Hynes’ girlfriend Samantha Urbani – of New York band Friends fame – provides many of the vocals.
‘Chamakay’ also represents a move towards the somnambulant, the brooding; in fifth track ‘It Is What It Is’, Hynes laments his ‘wasted moments in the Soho nights’. As with much of the album, the track is pervaded by a dreamlike ambiance, anchored by pacey percussion in the many moments of quiet. Whilst female vocals – involving a dubious French-accented spoken word section – dominate sixth track ‘Chosen’, the evolution from ethereal instrumental to catchy Prince-inspired number is expertly judged, carried by an intricate riff reminsicent of Coastal Grooves single ‘Sutphin Boulevard’.
Of course, the album has its pacier, more conventional moments. Second track – and second single – ‘You’re Not Good Enough’ has an unmistakable Michael Jackson vibe, and stands up as an individual release, benefitting from another lively riff and a well-judged simplicity. This is bitchy revenge-pop at its best, with poison-tongued Hynes declaring that ‘I never was in love / You know that you were never good enough’. It’s easy to draw a parallel with Blood Orange’s first single, ‘Dinner’, the chorus of which contained the lyrics ‘I’ll do everything I can to make sure that you are never happy’. This self-indulgence may grate on some listeners, but for me it’s what Blood Orange is all about.
But where there is conventional, there is also plain weird. Unexpected rap is always fun, and on ‘Clipped On’, it’s certainly a surprise. New York rapper Despot proves a somewhat valuable addition to the album, although MC Skepta’s rapping on later track ‘High Street’ is woefully misjudged. Discussion of his ‘G’s on the North side’ (and East side, West side and South side) feels clumsy and fundamentally at odds with a record so intricately constructed. Third track ‘Uncle Ace’ is also an odd one, composed of monotonous spoken word over a funky bassline. This descends unexpectedly into Philip Glass-style saxophone madness, and is perhaps actually one of the strongest points on the record musically.
In Cupid Deluxe, Blood Orange has constructed a somewhat indulgent record that in places is truly stunning. Several ill-judged tracks taint an otherwise thoughtful and ambitious record; Hynes possesses exceptionable musicality, and when he reigns himself in, produces poignant, relevant music.
Cupid Deluxe was released 18th November on Domino.