By Madeleine Rice
Artist: Vance Joy
Album: Nation of Two
Label: Liberation Music
Release Date: February 23, 2018
Where music lacks, words tend to fill in the gaps. Where vocals are unique or objectively undesirable, originality of sound takes over. A most obvious example of poetry’s importance within songwriting is Bob Dylan, duly awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. A man with a rugged and common voice, a man with songs containing nothing beyond a harmonica and a guitar created waves of revolutionary power because of their poetic artistry. Also notable is Alt-J’s rise to fame with sometimes ethereal, sometimes janky melodies, smart and sensual lyricism that highlight and perfectly compliment his unconventional tone of voice. I did not transpire these examples to compare to Vance Joy. Rather, I wish to depict and solidify the notion that to create true art within music, no matter how simplistic the instrumentation, it must have a powerful lyrical backing to maintain substance and lasting worth.
Vance Joy’s album Nation of Two hit the world stage February 23, 2018, quite a while after the release of his featured single and second track of the album, “Lay it on Me” which came out a full 7 months prior. For backgrounds’ sake, his debut ep God Loves You When You’re Dancing launched the artists success, labeling him a strong force in the alternative music industry, and the hit song “Riptide” brought a refreshing new sound to alt folk with the pleasant immersion of ukulele to a soft acoustic set surrounding ambiguously beautiful lyrics. Here’s a consideration I personally back: the ambiguously beautiful lyrics are a huge contributor to what made the song so remarkable and unique, and if he’d released a version of Riptide with lyrics as drawl as his new material, I can guess his success (or at least the deserved nature of it) would be dwindling at best.
Regardless of hypothetical narratives surrounding Vance Joy’s old work, I suggest that Nation of Two is an over processed regurgitation of uninspired, corny, antiquated sayings. Joy as an artist lost his poetry, and in turn, produced not a painting, but a caricature; something staple, pleasant for a second but not lasting, not recognized as thoughtful and original. Let’s take, for example “Alone With Me.” Is the music objectively bad? I would argue that it’s not. It’s just nothing special. The main line of the chorus is “everything’s good, everything’s just as it should be when you’re alone with me,” striking in comparison to the first line: “I saw you smile, I knew you had a spirit.” In fact, the bulk of the song as well as the whole album is so full of chi-chi sayings I find myself waiting for it fade out and become an advertisement for something whimsical and outdoorsy. Coffee. Wool socks from REI that will break your bank. So far and to my surprise, this hasn’t happened yet.
Fame is much harder to lose than to gain, and if anyone had to work with the same passion and fervor to keep it, music would break ground far more often than it tends to. My hope is that Joy returns to the obscurity of “Riptide” and focus his lyricism less on the predictability of dried out romantic sayings. The brashness of his talent is clear. His fans are rather loyal. Hopefully ceaseless encouragement doesn’t limit potential and beget stagnant growth.