Probably not too many people were holding their breath for a solo project from Simon Aldred. He is the frontman of the middling UK indie band Cherry Ghost, who have had some chart success but are hardly reinventing British rock. But, like a lot of younger artists these days, Aldred is a fan of ‘80s pop and soul music, and he wanted a chance to show the love. Hence, Out Cold, not to be confused with the American hardcore band.
Invasion of Love largely makes good on its promise. Aldred is about the 1001st guy who has been moved to combine sleek, methodical ‘80s synth pop and soul with a more vulnerable, 21st century romantic sensibility. But he does the job pretty well. If Invasion of Love fails to put anything new on the table, at least the meal is nourishing.
Aldred did himself a favor by hooking up with producer Ash Workman, who has mixed records for similarly ‘80s-inclined bands Metronomy and Summer Camp. Workman and Aldred certainly know their way around synths and drum machines. They create a supple bed of bleeps, bloops, beats, and loops that recall classic ‘80s synthpop sounds but also incorporate enough elements of modern electronic dance music to keep things fresh. As the title suggests, Invasion of Love is about relationships, romance, and sexuality, and the music is a nice fit for the mostly midtempo arrangements and Aldred’s smooth, agreeable croon.
Like many of the albums that inspired it, Invasion of Love is front-loaded. Opener “All I Want” is an ear-catching declaration, laying out Aldred’s intentions for the album. It begins with spacy, swirling synths and is eventually augmented with sampled strings, a punchy rhythm box, and buzzing electro bassline, as some staccato guitar adds a soulful touch. “Murder Black Corvette” is the album’s deepest, most funky track, a smart, hooky piece of synth pop. “Deep in my heart there’s a wildfire taking control,” sings Alred, in a line that is typical of his tendency to stop just short of schmaltz and cliché. If “Murder Black Corvette” is enjoyably up, then “Fingers Through the Glass” is enjoyably down. Here, a moody synth pad and well-placed bits of jagged post-punk guitar are a great complement to Aldred’s navel gazing.
If only the whole of Invasion of Love could be this smart. Instead, what follows is a bit of a mixed bag. The production value never flags, but Aldred and Workman overindulge themselves by allowing running times to stretch beyond the four or five minute mark. Some songs struggle to distinguish themselves, fading into a general pool of romantic crooning and good taste. “Synchronised” is smooth, Kraftwerk-inspired melancholy with a cool chorus. “Lovin’ Arms” is a late-album highlight, with an uplifting, 8-bit-inspired sound, and some of Aldred’s most charismatic vocals. The song earns its length, too, with a nice coda that sounds like and old-school “extended mix”.
So Out Cold and Invasion of Love are something of a pleasant surprise, then. It could use a bit more dynamism, but its sophistication almost makes up for that.