Unexpected? Well yes. Darren Hayes was one half of Savage Garden, the Aussie duo to blame for the huge and frankly horrible hit: "Truly, madly, deeply", which went 'I want to stand with you on a mountain / I want to bathe with you in a sea / I want to lay like this forever / until the sky falls down on me'. Ring a bell? They did really well in America and got played at every wedding reception. His first solo album - Spin - was much in the same fizzy, lite-pop vein.
So the last thing you'd expect from Darren is any kind of subtlety. But surprisingly, that's what you get. Though The Tension and the Spark is occasionally rendered soggy by old style overproduction it's pretty innovative on the whole. If anything, producer Robert Conley has been too adventurous at times. Among other incongruous sounds in the mix was a cell phone ringing, a frog and a chainsaw.
From "Darkness", with its catchy circularity, to the sexy title track, to the cleverly syncopated hit currently climbing the 5fm chart "Pop!ular", Hayes has traded the pat, romantic schmaltz lines for self deprecating, even humorous self-exploration. He asks: Do you have to sell your soul to make it big? Does intimacy take the spark out of sex? Am I really worth loving? Darren's melancholy and moodiness is matched with lyrics that prove that keeping it simple needn't necessarily mean keeping it stupid.
On the funky "Pop!ular" he declares 'I'm willing to sleep my way to the top / I wanna be pop... ular'. The way he mocks and adores his celebrity at once is endearing. ("Pop!ular" is fast becoming very popular on radio playlists. Which is no surprise - it's infuriatingly, wonderfully catchy.)
Has Darren Hayes saved synth pop? No way. It'll take more than this album to erase the memory of decades of Euro hell. But those who hated Savage Garden should take a listen (clips to the left) - there's nothing wrong with an open mind. And Darren Hayes and Savage Garden fans will love Darren's new direction.
- Jean Barker
WHAT OTHER CRITICS THOUGHT
...a surprisingly cohesive and intelligent work. That it's come from such an unlikely source doesn't matter; The Tension And The Spark has heart, hooks and originality to spare.- Edward Oculicz for Stylus Magazine'Main stream vocalist meets retro synth-meister' may not sound like a marriage made in heaven, but it doesn't sound that bad either, and The Tension And The Spark sees Darren Hayes in full bloom.- Antony Hatfield for BBC.co.uk
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