After debuting his new project Blood Orange with a fairly straightforward chillwave/electro-pop album full of hooky, sexy songs that worked like a collection of great singles, Dev Hynes returned with a second album that was anything but straightforward. In fact, Cupid Deluxe is something of a hot mess. It's unfocused, sprawling, and so full of ...
After debuting his new project Blood Orange with a fairly straightforward chillwave/electro-pop album full of hooky, sexy songs that worked like a collection of great singles, Dev Hynes returned with a second album that was anything but straightforward. In fact, Cupid Deluxe is something of a hot mess. It's unfocused, sprawling, and so full of ideas that it never seems to settle in one place for very long, jumping from laid-back EDM pop to soft rock with sax balladry to '90s New Jack Swing to bleary hip-hop and back again. While it doesn't make for a smooth listen from beginning to end, Hynes and his expanded cast of collaborators (who include the ubiquitous Caroline Polachek of Chairlift, Friends' Samantha Urbani, Dirty Projectors' David Longstreth, and Clams Casino) hit enough highs to make the album worth trying to figure out. Even if one never does truly figure it all out, there is enough graceful melancholy and tuneful sadness on display to make the album a bracing, late-night listen with plenty of songs that will stick around in memory banks and on breakup mixes. The songs that work the best are the most focused, like "You're Not Good Enough," the jumping Afro-pop disco jam "Uncle ACE, and "Always Let You Down," where Hynes doesn't let the soft focus arrangements get in the way of the melodies. His oddball sonic choices, like huge-sounding gated drums, '90s TV theme keyboard settings, and Polachek's showy warbling also don't usually get in the way, though "Chosen" might give anyone who doesn't worship at the altar of Phil Collins some seriously queasy feelings. And "Time Will Tell" comes off like an unholy blend of Bruce Hornsby and mid-period Prince thanks to some stately piano and squirmy sexual come-ons. Some of his choices are fairly brilliant, too, like how "Clipped On" is a brilliant mashup of Naughty by Nature and PM Dawn, or how "On the Line" takes the electro-pop of the previous album, feeds it through cheap Casios and too many Seagram's Coolers, then ends up with the most emotionally powerful song on the record. It also features lovely vocals from Urbani, who proves to be the ideal duet partner for Hynes since her sweet croon matches his perfectly. In the end, the album's head-scratching moments are outweighed by the near-brilliant ones, those weird juxtapositions of styles and oddly emotional times that make everyone from Solange, Basement Jaxx, and Britney want to work with Dev Hynes. He's an artist with ideas and while they sometimes pile up and crash on Cupid Deluxe, it's always a spectacular crash, and that's something worth investigating. ~ Tim Sendra, Rovi