Alexander O’Connor, better known by his stage name Rex Orange County, quickly rose to fame after the release of his first project, the homemade bcos u will never b free, and it’s easy to understand why. His vulnerability and humanity shone through his music, gaining the attention of both listeners and the music industry. Soon after his debut, Rex was solicited by Tyler, the Creator to appear on the rapper’s album, Flower Boy — which was quickly followed by the release of Rex’s own album, Apricot Princess, and a subsequent surge in popularity.
Apricot Princess affirmed Rex’s identity as a household name among an audience of angsty teenagers. The album was received well by both fans and critics, and rightfully so: Though it was not perfect, it was certainly emotional, creative and cohesive — and listeners took note.
Two years after the release of Apricot Princess, fans and critics were understandably eager to see what the artist would do next. Pony was an opportunity for Rex to solidify his status as an indie pop star and further explore the emotional themes that he set up in his past work, providing a chance to express his growth as an artist, knowing that everyone would be listening.
Despite the potential that it had, Pony pales in comparison to Rex’s past work, however. Though the album is easy to listen to, and the songs themselves are catchy, the work as a whole feels simple and even slightly boring, lacking the soul and emotion that made Rex so popular in the first place. He gives up the moody live instrumentals from Apricot Princess in favor of unmemorable lyrics sung atop tired pop beats, leaving listeners with an album that is palatable, but insignificant.
Pony begins on a fun note: “10/10,” the first track, is one of the album’s stronger songs. Rex excels as he sings about overcoming personal struggles over a jubilant beat, singing, “I feel like a five, I can’t pretend/ But if I get my shit together this year/ Maybe I’ll be a ten.” The next few songs are both less mature and less enjoyable — “Laser Lights” confusingly tries to combine a brass section with pop synths, which is made even less cohesive by his switching between rapping and singing. “Face to Face” and “Never Had the Balls” are bubbly pop songs that try to incorporate more background bells and whistles than they should, distracting from Rex’s lyrics and leaving listeners without much substance.
The album’s sincerity picks up with “Pluto Projector,” an emotional ballad in which Rex expresses his love and affection for his partner. Rex’s genuine lyrics and boyish vocals are complemented by the successful combination of acoustic guitar and melodic beats, reminding listeners of his talent and personality. These merits continue into the next song, “Every Way,” a stripped-down, poignant ballad that allows listeners to focus on Rex’s soft vocals as he sings, “I will care about you, in every way I can.”
The album ends with “It Gets Better” and “It’s Not the Same Anymore,” two songs that are decent, but not very distinctive from the rest of Pony. This is where the album suffers most: Its noticeable moments are few and far between, and it ultimately ends on an unremarkable note.
While the album as a whole is fine to listen to on the surface, its merits mostly end there. Rex’s greatest strength in his past work has been his ability to convey raw and genuine emotions, doing so through a signature style of indie instrumentals and meaningful lyrics. These qualities are markedly less present on Pony; the album doesn’t tap deeply into listeners’ emotions nor does it successfully keep their attention. Though Rex has some strong points throughout the record — tracks such as “10/10” and “Pluto Projector” remind us of his range and talent — these moments are obscured by the uninspiring pop songs that surround them, resulting in an album that is one part charming but two parts forgettable.
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