It was the question on everyone’s mind following the announcement of A Great Big World’s follow-up album, When the Morning Comes, leading all the way up to its release: “How would the duo manage in a post ‘Say Something’ world?” After all, the lead single from off of their debut featuring Christina Aguilera was a bombshell of a hit, with the ballad coming as a surprise addition to the list of 2014 bestsellers and chart toppers. For Ian Axel and Chad King, the creative minds behind the Great Big World moniker, their means of evading a sophomore slump, more or less, comes from evading the process of what made “Say Something” a major success and trying to do something different.
Avoiding the one-hit wonder territory that many past artists have slumped into prior to the twos’ existence, predestined to perform the same song at summer festivals and carnivals across the country for decades to come, may or may not be something that’s in their future, but their versatility as musicians will be what carries them through accusations of mediocrity and sameness. When the Morning Comes plays out similarly to Is There Anybody Out There? from a thematic standpoint; most every track present on the record is a celebration of love, happiness, and individuality. Where the differences begin to kick in at a wild tempo comes in the form of the songs’ delivery; Axel and King return to the songwriting plate much in the same manner of self and dedication towards positivity as they did with their first outing, but with a stronger awareness of anthemic gestures and sweeping, pop-art landscapes.
Whereas Is There Anybody Out There? opened with the playfully theatric piano frills associated with “Rockstar”, When the Morning Comes finds its beginning with the more reassured choral shouts associated with the backing vocals of “All I Want is Love”. The same, Ben Folds-esque charm resonates throughout their work, but it comes across as more inspirited and confident, with a particular stadium rock quality that would not be out of place on an outing from Imagine Dragons or Coldplay.
This formula perpetuates throughout the entirety of their sophomore outing and, if anything, affirms that a sophomore slump is not something set in A Great Big World’s career trajectory. Whether or not When the Morning Comes outsells its predecessor in any menial, by-the-numbers way, it comes across as practically factual that it outshines its predecessor as a collective whole; the songwriting is smarter and more assured for radio play without sacrificing the core basis of what makes A Great Big World, A Great Big World.
It will be interesting to see how future albums play out for the band, since they have already managed, in great, Twister-like fashion, to develop a myriad of ways to focus on the central topic of a hopeful love without going stale. In the meantime, the boys are on a roll.
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