WHO CARES? Review: Rex Orange County Meanders Towards Irrelevance  

The title of Rex Orange County’s fourth studio album asks, WHO CARES? If the man behind Rex OC, Alex O’Connor, keeps this up, pretty soon the answer will be nobody.

rex orange county who cares? album review


The title of Rex Orange County’s fourth studio album asks, WHO CARES? If the man behind Rex OC, Alex O’Connor, keeps this up, pretty soon the answer will be nobody.

This was tough to get through. Whiny, repetitive, unadventurous. An attempt to copy and paste the sound that brought him deserved critical and commercial success, but WHO CARES? is a botch job. At best, it’s mediocre background noise; at worst, it’s dreary, spineless fluff that pales in comparison to the first two projects Rex Orange County released.

Listening to a bad album by an artist who can make good music is particularly irksome, and Alex O’Connor’s lost his edge. The singing and songwriting have both regressed, but most damning of all is the monotonousness of his sound. That is now four Rex Orange County albums of a very similar ilk, as O’Connor gradually becomes less pioneering and less authentic. For an artist whose product is so intertwined with his own personal struggles, O’Connor’s growth has been absolutely non-existent. If anything, he’s gone backwards.

rex orange county who cares? album review

When, in July 2017, the young English singer-songwriter featured twice on Tyler, The Creator’s album Flower Boy, he was thrust into the spotlight overnight. A star was born. Not just because he had impressed on an album released by a global superstar, but because his existing solo body of work – Bcos U Will Never B Free and Apricot Princess – was quality.

Apricot Princess, in particular, is a top notch album. Released two months before Flower Boy, its lyrics bare all. The writing is brave, forthright and more mature than anything on WHO CARES? or 2019’s Pony. The production is catchy, still built on a bedrock of bedroom keyboards and guitars, but more exploratory than anything to have come from Rex Orange County since. ‘4 Seasons’ is a brilliant song. ‘Untitled’, ‘Television/So Far So Good’ and ‘Waiting Room’ are all well worth a listen. Apricot Princess is an interesting album; even those who take a modicum of pleasure in the insipid easiness of WHO CARES? could surely not describe it as an interesting album.

For the sound and its message has grown stale. O’Connor’s still stuck in his bedroom, somehow both aloof and enthusiastically melancholic, a teenager meandering through the world, hands in pockets, wallowing in self-pity, refusing to listen to any sensible advise, and singing in a happy voice about all of it. There’s nothing definitively wrong with this – when you’re a teenager. O’Connor is 23 now. It’s time to grow up. And when you’ve overplayed the sad boy card, it delegitimises that sadness.

Within 30 seconds of WHO CARES?, which opens with the track ‘KEEP IT UP’ (find cringeworthy video below) you can tell what the following 34-and-a-half minutes will consist of. That’s all the time O’Connor needs to whimper a guess that he’s stressed and depressed. He goes on to guess that he’s also blessed. On top of the repetitiveness, that he keeps guessing is the crux of the song writing’s weakness throughout the album. It’s all just very limp. O’Connor is perpetually unsure. You want to grab him by the collar and tell him to get a grip. He’s asking WHO CARES?, but it doesn’t even sound like he does – and not in some edgy, artistic, detached way. This is pathetic apathy, not the cool kind.

Another repellent is O’Connor’s constant claims to be tired of success and attention. Fair enough if so, but ironic in that it’s an album that sonically panders to mainstream safety. Who knows where he goes from here? Clearly O’Connor isn’t sure either, or surely he’d have done something even slightly different.

The nail in the coffin for this album is the screaming ad-lib featured on the project’s titular outro. Rarely, if ever, have I detested a second of music more (I suppose the hatred had been building for the previous half hour and I’m unleashing it all on a single moment, but it’s a really, really bad moment). A little over a minute into the song, O’Connor whines ‘People make me want to scream and shout’ before this pathetic little cry is added in the background. Even the scream is pitiful. It’s more of a feeble ‘aaah’ than an actual shout. Ugh. Perhaps I’m focusing too much on it, but it’s just juvenile nonsense from an artist who, as a juvenile, threatened to be pretty good.


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Alas, here we are. Who cares? Two stars just because it will make for a good ambience at tacky cafés. And because it’s got enough in common with what were good albums, that I can’t genuinely award one star. Really though, in case you couldn’t tell, this is a festering pile o’…

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