Subtlety is nowhere to be found on Twin Shadow's major label debut Eclipse. One thing is for certain though, George Lewis Jr. still has an undeniable knack for crafting a killer refrain.
When it was announced that George Lewis Jr., aka Twin Shadow, was leaving legendary indie label 4AD and had been courted by Warner Bros., there were some who cried foul and suggested that he was giving in to the dark side of the Force. His latest album Eclipse had already been recorded and was slowly being promoted by 4AD, so the sudden move was unconventional, to say the least. Regardless of whether or not the deciding factor had more to do with the prospects of receiving a pay raise or gaining more exposure, the shift to a major label presented him with a significant opportunity to broaden his fan base. Now that the album has been released, the rationale behind the decision is inconsequential. Who cares? The music will ultimately speak for itself, right?
The intimate quirkiness of his 2010 debut Forget gave way to a much more ostentatious follow-up. Confess, with its glossier production values and bad-ass, “Rebel Without a Cause” promotional photography, displayed the evolution of an artist who was growing beyond the confines of indie rock’s anti-pop star conventions. Ambitious and focussed, the Dominican-born artist delivered a sophomore effort that sounded like a quiet bid for mainstream adoration. Listening to the musical progression between his first two albums, the third record was never going to be an understated, lo-fi affair.
With the arrival of Eclipse, his major label debut, Lewis has completely parted ways with subtlety. He has cranked up the dynamics to arena-size proportions, and infused the production work with nostalgia-heavy histrionics and a modern sensibility. There are those who might say that he is now shamelessly pandering to a wider audience, and he very well might be. Either way, there is an immediacy to the choruses of Eclipse, that transcends the label boundaries of “indie” and “mainstream”.
Opening track “Flatliners” simmers upon the stove, but never quite comes to a boil. The verses slither along at a listless pace, while Lewis awkwardly attempts to cram as many words into a phrase as possible. It rarely works for Alanis Morrisette, and here it doesn’t seem to serve him well either. The brilliant “When the Lights Turn Out” boasts one of the record’s most epic choruses and features a dense wall of pounding percussion. Sharply-bowed violins stab in and out of the mix, while Lewis sings, "I stick around, though jealously and ecstasy are slowly taking over me."
Proving that bigger isn’t always better, the optimistic tracks “To the Top” and “I’m Ready” both feel like they might collapse under the weight of their own gaudy, nostalgic grandeur. Somehow though, their chant-like choruses rescue them from being one step away from acid-washed jeans and big, flowing, feathery man hair. While the ‘80s influences often come out to play, there are many modern references to be found as well. The interlude of the album’s vulnerable title track incorporates a delicate synth passage, tastefully referencing “A Walk” from Tycho’s album Dive. The intro of “Turn Me Up” briefly recalls Massive Attack's classic track “Teardrop”, before the groove is interrupted by a blast of electric guitars. “Watch Me Go”, with it’s Röyksopp-esque bassline, concludes with some of those queasy, disorienting synths found on Björk collaborator Arca’s debut album Xen.
Lewis has never been a particularly astounding lyricist, and Eclipse won’t change that opinion here, but it often doesn’t matter when the song craft is as solid as this. “Old Love / New Love”, a duet with D’Angelo Lacy, embraces the high-NRG vibe of ‘90s dance-pop, complete with chunky, deep house piano chords. In “Alone”, a break-up song conceived in a cemetery of all places, Lewis is joined by Bay Area, R&B/Pop singer Lily Elise, of NBC’s The Voice, Season 1 fame. Originally written as a duet for Billy Idol and Class Actress (that would have been amazing), the poignant track might revel in despondent bitterness, but it’s one of the few times that the album really sounds of this era, instead of being reminiscent of another.
The production throughout Eclipse is overwrought to the point of absurdity, but the attention to detail that pervaded his previous releases remains intact. Some of it works perfectly well, although at other times the dynamics are much too bombastic. The choruses are stadium huge and the hooks are abundant; mainstream success will undoubtedly be his for the taking if his publicity team knows what the hell they’re doing. A video circulating the internet right now, might suggest otherwise. Longtime Lewis Jr. fans may be appalled to know that he is presently starring in a Levi’s commercial, playing classic rock riffs and blues licks while flagrantly endorsing their jeans. Disingenuous in theory, but surprisingly pretense-free in execution, the Twin Shadow publicity machine might be on to something.
Fans of Forget’s synth-washed intimacy might balk at the overproduced gloss of his latest effort, but one thing is for certain: Lewis still has an undeniable knack for crafting a killer refrain. His latest album might not be as consistent and confident as Confess or as sonically intricate as Forget, but there is enough artistic integrity still present here to dissuade anyone from running for the hills. The occasional misstep aside, Eclipse is the sound of Lewis Jr. defying labels, flipping the bird at his detractors, and laughing all the way to the bank.