Liner Notes: The XX singer’s solo LP a return to the dance floor
Stars and Stripes September 22, 2023
The XX are perhaps one of the most deceptive trios of the last 15 years in pop music. Leaning heavily on mood, they’ve made their name for themselves off a sparse approach to musicality. Half their tone could smugly be described as merely “air,” but the truth is, once you dissect their blend of Euro indie pop, you begin to realize how the group is very much a sum of its parts. Romy Madley Croft’s gorgeous vocals and tasteful guitar blends perfectly with Oliver Sim’s breathy singing and sturdy bass playing. Jamie XX, meanwhile, ties it all together with a knockout musical sensibility.
So, what happens when one of them strikes out on their own? Sim made his case on 2022’s “Hideous Bastard” with an uneven if not ambitious solo set. Jamie XX seems to never, ever stop working. And as for Madley Croft … well, she’s been putting out music in dribs and drabs for quite some time now, but alas, after months of anticipation, her debut LP “Mid Air” collects those dribs and drabs and throws them into one gloriously danceable box. If The internet is to be believed, she wanted to make a record that recalled the days when she would frequent florescent night clubs, and with these 11 songs, she does just that.
Does that mean it works? Some of the time, at least. The best moments come when the XX textures peek through the two-stepping in subliminal ways. “The Sea,” as an example, recalls the dance-pop that made the 1990s and early 2000s more interesting than they deserved to be and Madley Croft’s understated, melancholic croon is unmistakable, even if it is surrounded by a “Dance Dance Revolution” floorboard. It wouldn’t have been out of place on either her band’s excellent 2017 effort “I See You” or, say, some of Madonna’s better latter day work.
It’s also impossible not to hear the Everything But The Girl influence on a good chunk of the tracks here. While not as musically complex as her countrymate’s mid-’90s work, both Madley Croft and EBTG’s Tracey Thorn command attention with their dour, affecting vocal approach. “Weightless” is simple and bright as it leans heavily on arpeggiated notes that echo through the speakers with joy as Madley Croft meditates on pure love. The Beverly Glenn-Copeland title track – which also features a Brian Eno co-producer credit – is as pretty as anything Madley Croft has ever been part of, and it bleeds into the Daft Punk-ish “Enjoy Your Life,” which proves to be a worthy combination, the latter providing a hook that will stick with you for days.
Is it The XX part deux? No, but nobody said Madley Croft should strive for that anyway. This is an album about grief (Madley Croft lost both of her parents), love (this is the first time she’s been this public this often about her wife), and, in some ways, nostalgia (Madley Croft has said she would burn CDs to bring to dance clubs back when she was just falling in love with music). It’s a liberating love letter that lacks the sophistication of an XX album but makes up for it with both inspiration and purity from an artist who clearly needed to get a project like this out of her system.
“Hold my hand under the table,” she asserts on the tone-setting opener “Loveher.” “It’s not that I’m not proud in the company of strangers / It’s just some things are for us.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.