Despite the hype that surrounded its Oct. 25 release, I was disappointed by the new Rex Orange County album, Pony. Alex O’Connor, or Mr. Orange County as I like to call him, has in the past presented interesting and nuanced pieces of music for his listeners, but many songs on Pony were overproduced and basic, with rare moments of lyrical complexity or insight. The first song off of the album, “10/10,” sounded like Bo Burnham’s imitation of a Kanye West song. It droned on about surviving a bad year, but remained on the surface level of describing the experience. “I feel like a five, I can’t pretend/But if I get my sh*t together this year/Maybe I’ll be a ten,” sang O’Connor, referring to a year that “nearly sent him off the edge.” These lyrics may have been impactful if they were packaged differently; it was difficult to digest them with the annoying, overproduced soundscape of the song.
Out of 10 songs on the album, however, not all were bad. Titles like “Pluto Projector,” “Every Way,” “Laser Lights” and “It’s Not the Same Anymore,” redeem the record. These songs accomplish what they set out to do, and they don’t have a facade of loud noise that keeps the lyrics from reaching the listener. The closing track of the album, “It’s Not the Same Anymore” in particular feels sincere, with lyrics like “I’ve spent many months just hating on myself…Or leaving problems on the shelf / I wish I didn’t need to get help, but I do.” This sequence puts a name to the problems that O’Connor has been vaguely hinting at throughout the album with other lyrics such as “I’m bored of the pain and I need to explain” in the second track, “Always.”
In the song “Always,” as well as track five, “Stressed Out,” the lyrics are elementary, but they often work in the album’s favor. In the past, O’Connor has benefited from writing with clear and straightforward language, but lyrics like “When you’re at your worst, they’re not there/ And you discover that they don’t care” (Stressed Out) leave the listener wanting more from this melodic song, which has the potential to instill more feeling. On “Always,” a snare drum is mixed in near the end of the song, in the most irritating manner possible. Like many other songs on the album, this piece would not be complete without this abrasive element that makes headphone users want to run and hide.
On the other hand, there are some great songs on Pony. “It Gets Better” is what the teens would call a “bop.” Though its lyrics are also basic, the production is beautiful and the instrumentation changes from a Funky-town type rhythm in the beginning of the track to a beautiful, almost triumphant string sequence. However, because of the annoying/endearing nature of O’Connor’s voice, I hated this song the first time I heard it.
The sound of Pony will really depend on what mood the listener is in, as the vocals on the album are unpolished and overprocessed. O’Connor sounds untrained, and his short “ee” vowels in particular are nasally and hard to listen to when you are in a bad mood.
Some songs on Pony are what I would call mid-range hits—fun little ditties that are enjoyable to listen to, but not amazing. “Never Had the Balls,” Track six, is one of these. The lyrics are silly in a good way, and the bird sounds in the mix, as well as a female harmony accompaniment make the track interesting. However, the song sounds like a third cup of coffee after a sleepless night. It is hard to keep up with, but it is constantly changing and evolving from beginning to end.
To get another perspective on this album, I asked fellow Copy Editor and Rex Fan, Jared LaBrecque how he felt. “Pony has redeeming qualities. Rex seems more at peace with himself when comparing this album’s lyrics to its predecessors. The playful synths and grand orchestral arrangements in some of the songs show a marked improvement in his production. Additionally, he doesn’t swear as much,” LaBrecque said.
Since this album is full of joyful energy from O’Connor, I feel that I have been too harsh on him. However, I must disclose that on my first two listens of this record, I could not bear to listen to it. None of it was enjoyable for me. At the time of my first listen, I was in a room with a friend, and they pointed out that my whole face was scrunched up like I had just smelled sulfur. I give Pony 2.5/5 stars.