Album Review: Orlando Weeks – Hop Up

Orlando Weeks Hop Up artwork

‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than a pram in the hall.’

So said the legendary English writer (and, significantly, critic) Cyril Connolly. As with all sweeping statements, it’s largely untrue given that parenthood is one of the defining features of humanity, but there is obviously something in it.

Marking ten years since the peak of his former band’s career (The Maccabees’ masterpiece, Given To The Wild), Orlando Weeks returns with his second solo album.

His debut, 2020’s A Quickening, was a necessary change of pace which saw him document the lesser-articulated anxieties and challenges of fatherhood against a soundtrack of sparse, minimal electronica.

It seems things have improved in Weeks’ world, and on the other side of the coin Hop Up offers an alternative perspective on the experience of nurturing a human being.

From the outset, this is clear. Opening track Deep Down Way Out struts with Tears For Fears-y guitars by way of setting the tone for the album. After the first chorus there’s even a carefree whistle to hammer the point home; all is good in Weeks’s world, the grey clouds have lifted and domesticity is bliss.

Good for him, that’s great to hear…unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily make for good listening. What made A Quickening rewarding works against Hop Up: conveying the experience.

For all its joys, parenthood is hard work and fatherhood has its own specific issues which, for various reasons, aren’t openly discussed. A Quickening worked because it spoke about those specific issues to a specific audience whilst offering insight to those who don’t experience them.

In contrast, perhaps knowingly, Hop Up positively bristles with joy. Look Who’s Talking Now (his kid, in case you weren’t sure) burns brightly, the soft-rock synths supporting a splendid melody, with extra points earned for including ‘bless my soul’ as a lyric.

The wobbly High Kicking (‘I kick on the conga line, I fit both your hands in mine’) features softly-licked strings and guitars, as well as a guest appearance from Willie J Healey on backing vocals, adding to the cloying positivity.

The chirpy Hey You Hop Up (as in, onto my shoulders) has a sweet, infectious swagger that raises a smile, but tread carefully: here be panpipes. Indeed, the album notably tweaks the formula with success, from the snappy keys and harmonica on Bigger, which recall peak Michael Jackson, to the twanging guitars on the opener.

Not that he’s fully ditched the ambience of the first album, as Silver is both subtly grandiose and mellow at the same time, with muffled drums pulsing pleadingly, if unchallengingly.

Sagely, Weeks continues to utilise the best weapon in his arsenal well. On the glacial No End To Love his vocals are layered to create a chanting, monkish effect, and on the pulsing Make You Happy (‘I’m not in love with anyone else, nothing else comes close’) he swells out of the speakers like a one-man Fleet Foxes, utilising his distinctive tones excellently. Perhaps aware that you can have too much of a good thing, he enlists Katy J Pearson to provide the honey on Big Skies Silly Faces.

To deride the very likeable and sweet Orlando Weeks for relaying joy is like kicking a puppy, but there are limits and Hop Up tests them. The (wholly dominant) subject matter of the joys of parenthood, while by means a niche concept, does render it somewhat inaccessible to a portion of the audience.

Listened to individually, many of these tracks are charming. As a complete whole, it’s somewhat suffocating, but the warmth could be invaluable to some in these brutal winter months.

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