Rex Orange County dropped his newest album WHO CARES? on March 11th, 2022, marking his fourth album release. This project explores grand orchestral themes all while maintaining the integrity of his indie-pop sound up to this point, and the emotional content of the work follows an easily-relatable storyline to anyone who has felt overwhelming self-doubt or like they weren’t enough for someone, walking on the verge of giving up, and finally coming to terms with all of these complicated feelings and doing what one needs to do to move forward.
The album is kicked off with “KEEP IT UP” and right off the bat, the strings that will be heard throughout the album are introduced. This song delivers messages of validation and encouragement to the self, instead of giving up in times of frustration, all over a bubbly dance beat. Next, “OPEN A WINDOW” openly expresses claustrophobic feelings, the need to escape, and “hanging on.” This song features a verse from Tyler, the Creator, in which he continues to express the underlying story wonderfully. The song is very cohesive in concept and execution, and if you haven’t heard Tyler, The Creator rap over strings, now is your time.
“AMAZING” has an enchanting or ‘casually elegant’ sound to it. There are beautiful emotional swells that make this song notable, but it’s also quite catchy and danceable. The next song, “ONE IN A MILLION” has a similar vibe, but what really stands out about it is how well the vocals and groove, along with the background strings, of course, work together to create a sentimental yet easy-going song. Both songs, back-to-back, offer validation towards a loved one, expressing appreciation to the person that provides unwavering support through the toughest of times.
“IF YOU WANT IT” marks the halfway point in the album. This song uses way more electronic effects, though Rex Orange County does not sacrifice his use of strings at this point. Still, the string part is manipulated to sound more erratic and choppy. The distorted droning bass line, as well as the daring and very present groove the drums offer, give it an edgier feel. Lyrically, there is a significant shift in mood and message in this song and this new mood continues to evolve in the next couple of songs, “7AM” and “THE SHADE.” The emotional focus in the middle of this album is characterized by worries and tension running high in a relationship, assumed to be with the person referred to in “AMAZING” and “ONE IN A MILLION.” Rex Orange County’s lyrics claim to have “something to prove” and while wanting to stay afloat, the question arises if he is “cut out for this” in these few songs.
The last two songs, I would say, form their own category within the album. “SHOOT ME DOWN” is a rollercoaster of a ballad, consisting of both a realization and a plea for the loved one to stay. The song begins with a heartbroken intro, chorus, and verse, but as the listener arrives at the pre-chorus, it feels like a glimmer of sun peeking out behind dark clouds. It is the most hopeful a song has sounded since the first half of the album, but after reveling in that feeling for a little under 30 seconds, the chorus and the heartache return, and it goes through the cycle once more. The height of the song is a beautiful orchestral build-up, comparable to a dramatic moment in a cinematic score. The strings suddenly vanish, and the last thing the listener is left with is the hopeful piano part from the pre-chorus until it fades out.
This leads us to the last piece of the puzzle. The title song of the album. “WHO CARES?” leaves the listener with a playful sense of relief. It is unclear whether this is a happy or unfortunate ending to the relationship, but it is very clear his tone has changed and that Rex has come to the realization, through reflection, that he should live his life free of worry and fear, because after all, really, “who cares?.”
From a harmonic and melodic perspective, the vibe of the first song “KEEP IT UP” has returned, and both songs are even in the same key. However, the groove and lyrics of “WHO CARES?” are slower and calmer, resembling a shrug, compared to the more upbeat, bouncy nature of “KEEP IT UP” which can be interpreted into anxious and urgent emotions. “WHO CARES?” also has very simple instrumentation; there seems to be no appearance of the strings we got so used to hearing. This feeds into the imagery that a weight has been lifted off his chest and he, along with those listening, can take a breath of fresh air.
Rex has used strings in his previous albums, including his 2017 release Apricot Princess and in his 2019 release Pony. In both, he achieves a sense of powerful drama because of it, but it seems to be on more of a casual, song to song basis. In his debut album, Bcos U Will Never Be Free (2016), no orchestral material was used at all and he developed a more electronic sound. Rex laid the foundation with keyboard, bass, guitar, and drums, achieving complexity through simplicity with his masterful use of effects and distortion, letting his signature vocal and lyrical quality shine. Comparing that to his newest body of work, WHO CARES?, this feels like the first time the strings hold clear and consistent significance throughout the album. It’s kind of ironic when you really think about it – assuring the instrumental quality of the album produces a cinematic-like drama, all while his vocal and lyrical elements create a light-hearted, ‘can’t be bothered’ atmosphere.
This album makes the listener curious as to how Rex Orange County will further develop his sound in future projects, but no need to jump the gun. The question that you want to be asking is: how will Rex Orange County push the development of the WHO CARES? release and how will this translate into his live performances of it on his upcoming tour.
The news of touring is particularly exciting because this album creates the space for his listeners to feel what they’re feeling, and no matter how intense or rough those emotions may be, they can experience and process them at a Rex Orange County concert while singing, dancing, and having a carefree night.
The WHO CARES? Tour begins on May 4th, 2022 in Miami and runs the U.S. through the last week in June, before shows in Canada, Europe, and Australia until the end of November. Several dates are sold out and continue to sell fast, so be quick to get your tickets or join the waitlist here!
Article By: Kailyn Richards