Album: Owl City, Ocean Eyes (Universal Republic)
A number-one single, but the reality check is in the mail
Sunday 14 February 2010
As a devout Christian, Adam Young will no doubt be familiar with the Eighth Commandment, a simple and unambiguous four-worder: Thou Shalt Not Steal. In which case, Young is in danger of spending all eternity in a fiery place. Because Ocean Eyes, and the entire shtick he peddles under his Owl City alias, could be seen as one of the most outrageous rip-off jobs in pop history.
I first heard Owl City on Radio 2 late last year, and my initial reaction to the opening lines of "Vanilla Twilight" ("The stars lean down to kiss you/ And I lie awake and miss you/ Pour me a heavy dose of atmosphere ..."), sung in a super-sappy voice over Softy-Walter keyboards, was to swear loudly. My second reaction was to wonder whether the Postal Service could sue. Not that the Postal Service will necessarily need the money. After all, Ben "Death Cab for Cutie" Gibbard's synthpop side-project made Give Up, one of the biggest-selling albums in Sub Pop's history.
It's a crime for which the occasional good tune cannot atone. The worst thing about it is that a really bad band ripping off a really good band can make you start hating the good band. Owl City is making me hate the Postal Service, and I hate Young for that. Ocean Eyes is such an insultingly bad photocopy of Give Up that I'm retrospectively wondering whether Gibbard's lot were as good as I remember them, and that's a grim outcome, which I'm fighting hard to resist.
Here's how it works. Once upon a time, in the punk/post-punk era, the word "romantic" was synonymous with "wet", "soppy", "wimpy" etc. We've come a long way since then, and the Postal Service were just the right side of the line. Owl City is way over the line, Young's version of "romance" so disgustingly wet it could set humanity back 30 years.
As I write this, "Fireflies" is number one. I'm tempted to say "God help us if there's a war". But there is a war, so we're in worse trouble than we ever thought. Ocean Eyes is as icky as an over-smothering love letter, and anyone who encourages Young's musical Mills & Boon needs to take a long, hard look at themselves. And if you've given a copy to a loved one this morning, Happy Valentine's Day.
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