Before April, Tucker Pillsbury, better known by his musical alias ROLE MODEL, found love a bitter pill to swallow.
Capturing the impermanence and elusiveness associated with relationships, raw lyricism threaded feverish frustration into the fabric of the singer-songwriter’s past two EPs. However, Pillsbury’s debut studio album Rx sees the alt-pop artist entering a lovestruck state of mind, vigorously trading angst for heartfelt infatuation. Like the medical symbol “Rx” implies, Pillsbury has a newfound prescription: Now, love is the only drug he needs.
Released April 8, Rx makes bold strides to be a fresh, edgy take on falling in love, but stumbles on its path to stirring romance. With his previous works, easygoing melodies and restrained yet effective vocals bolstered Pillsbury’s casual swagger. Meanwhile, Rx is rife with glaringly trite lyrics that reduce the 24-year-old’s laidback intentions to those of an overexcited middle school boy.
Perhaps too determined to seem besotted with his lover, Pillsbury oversaturates Rx with an unnecessary degree of intimacy and devotion, and his songwriting style suffers for it. One too many tracks on the album lack the nuance necessary to be convincingly romantic or captivating, instead coming across as contrived.
This issue becomes most prominent in the explicitly titled “masturbation song,” whose equally graphic lyrics — “Who’s in your head/ When you push your flower?” and “Lights goin’ dim, my limb is blue” — distract from the tender, private atmosphere created by Pillsbury’s refined vocals and the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar.
At other times, Pillsbury’s aspirations to formulate an unconventional love song are dashed not by a shortage of subtlety, but by an agonizing absence of imagination. In “neverletyougo,” a single that initially promises sleek intrigue, Pillsbury attempts to communicate openness by candidly admitting, “Honestly, you get all my honesty.” Regardless of the statement’s brevity, its redundancy reads less like sincerity and more like a high schooler attempting to increase their essay word count.
If questionable songwriting decisions resulted in one of Rx’s more noticeable weaknesses, the record’s other prominent flaw is the overtly simplified production featured in multiple songs. From the repetitive rhythm of “who hurt you” to the undemanding melody of “save a seat” and the sluggish trap beat of “can you say the same,” too many tracks muddle together in a nebulous, monotonous haze.
Rx flourishes only when Pillsbury returns to his roots with easy-flowing charm. Arguably the greatest triumph of the record is its addictive lead single, “forever&more.” Backed by breezy guitar riffs and a jaunty drum beat, Pillsbury captures personal moments spent in his partner’s company with relaxed affection. Catchy in the most casual way possible, “forever&more” brightly balances playfulness and intimacy, a feat that the majority of Rx fails to accomplish.
Pillsbury’s debut album manages to finish on a thoughtful note, with its other saving grace and final song, “rx.” Delicately opening the first verse with expressions of loneliness, regret and discouragement, Pillsbury is accompanied by a lone guitar. In spite of its gentle, stripped down nature, this exposed musicality chips down Pillsbury’s barriers and leaves him vulnerable — to his partner and listeners alike.
Optimism gradually seeps into the chorus of “rx” as Pillsbury reveals that he doesn’t need “therapy” or “Jesus Christ/ Just someone who treats me right.” Following this admission, the chorus crescendos into a harmonious array of soaring, ethereal vocals, and a fragile sense of hopefulness descends on the album’s closing moments.
Subtly referencing both the title of the last song and the entire record, Pillsbury has found the remedy to his emotional struggles; it’s not treatment or religion, but his lover. Pillsbury attempts to fashion Rx into a cure for the generic love song, yet listeners are the ones who might need a spoonful of sugar.