The xx I See You Young Turks
The xx performed new single On Hold for SNL back in November. It made for awkward viewing, and looking back, it was an indicator of all that is uncomfortable about their third album I See You. “We got carried away,” Romy Madly Croft deadpans, straight to camera, as she and Oliver Sim attempt to excite their live studio audience by swaying like robots wearing moon boots. Now the face of trendy-but-tepid dance music, Jamie Smith stares at his hands and pretends he’s still encouraging kids to rave at Barclaycard British Summertime.
I See You sounds a lot like The xx have googled how to have fun. The restricted UK garage beat behind the record’s opening track Dangerous suggests that they’ve moved beyond their monochrome aesthetic for a more upbeat affair. Forget that your dad’s still playing VCR at family barbeques because The xx are dangerous now. “Cause I couldn’t care less/ If they call us reckless,” they chant, as a brass section teases a crescendo for four minutes that never quite climaxes. Ironically, Dangerous is a safe introduction to an album that’s committed to its own blandness.
When they first emerged in 2009, The xx’s style of minimalism – those icy retorts, nocturnal sound palettes and sparse electronic drums – sounded fresh. It’s 2017 now, and they’re pushing unconvincingly epic platitudes, perhaps in acknowledgement of the huge venues they play. I Dare You employs a Sex On Fire-style “ohhh-wooaaahh” to cold, flaccid effect. “A rush of blood is not enough,” they warn – and they’re right, nothing is erect here. Not even by accident.
Self-conscious, insincere melodrama reigns on I See You, and those pressured silences that were once The xx’s trademark have lost their power. Like enjambment in sixth-form poetry, just because there’s a line break, it doesn’t mean the author is saying anything meaningful.