James vincent mcmorrow
Sony Music / Columbia Records
Singer / songwriter
James Vincent McMorrow had no plans to become the face of Irish live music during the Covid-19 pandemic, but then again, little has been planned for the Malahide-born artist over the past 18 months. As the first title to play a socially distanced outdoor music event in June, McMorrow set the stage for a summer of give and take between the Irish event industry and the government, which continues until the fall.
McMorrow’s fifth album was another victim. Scheduled for release in 2020, it has been put on hold by his label – twice – until summer 2021, and again until September. Recorded between London, Los Angeles and Dublin and produced with Paul Epworth, Kenny Beats, Lil Silva and Patrick Wimberly (half of the synth-pop duo Chairlift), Grapefruit Season arrives as a very different beast; four songs were added during the months of confinement, expanding the tracklist to more reflective territories, torn between electro-pop fusion and introspective ballads.
From the first, Paradise is an energetic, electronic track designed to get out of Dodge on a summer day, while Gone showcases the best of its turn to heavy, tropical beats. Yet he has a thoughtful tone, not claiming to have all the answers; “I’m giving less f ** ks than before; still gives a lot.
I Should Go cuts through its deceptive and contagious groove – courtesy of Kenny Beats – while sitting with social anxiety: “I don’t wanna think I missed a party, so I go and I hate everybody.” The solution? A repetitive, toxic cycle: “Find someone, and love someone, kill someone, start over.”
Near the middle, a series of ballads varies in performance. Waiting, written in part in response to the pandemic, takes stock of the ups and downs of the past 18 months – the anticipation of seeing “if my hope will push back” – to great effect. Meanwhile, Poison to You finds McMorrow’s falsetto leading a choir that, mixed with expressive grand piano chords and swollen strings, comes close to over-sentimentality.
The pace is further slowed down by We Don’t Kiss Under Umbrellas Like We Used To, where a pretty but predictable guitar line chosen by Travis underlines a love song that, compared to sharp lyrical observations elsewhere, lacks bite. McMorrow’s best work merges his nimble lyricism with a more expressive musicality: the infectious bassline on Planes in the Sky, for example, or the sparkling and sparse piano of Headlights.
Part of Me is a fitting reminder that dares not offer solutions, only permission to recognize the symptoms of chaos. It’s an ending punctuated by a sigh – of despair or relief, we don’t know. It is in the ambiguity, the uncertainty, the preliminary spaces between hope and abandonment, that McMorrow finds thoughtful and fertile ground.