Oh Wonder – No One Else Can Wear Your Crown
Growing and evolving your sound can be a fine line for bands to walk. Stick to the same formula for too long and it starts to lose its sheen. It becomes like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, and so on: the same in essence, but upon closer inspection it is a little more worn and ill-defined each time. That said, deviating from the formula has its own share of pitfalls. It’s quite easy to move away from something that works headlong into something that doesn’t. Sadly our favourite pop duo have fallen foul of this latter path with their third album.
Though the changes found in No One Else are quite small in the grand scheme of things, I still can’t help but feel that they show Oh Wonder moving in the wrong direction. Tracks like ‘Better Now’, ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Drunk On You’ best showcase where this album struggles. They lean too heavily on repetition, teetering between infectious and obnoxious at times, they double down on electronic elements creating overly cluttered arrangements, and there are even odd instances of unnecessary vocal effects. All of this serves to distract from the duo’s strengths; their gorgeous harmonies and earworm melodies. As a whole there’s just too much going on in this album and it loses a lot of its heart in the process.
What is equally frustrating and exciting about this record however is that we also get a taste of what it could have been. The stripped back balladry of ‘In And Out Of Love’ stuns with its open and vulnerable lyricism (in spite of the jarring vocoder effects in the closing moments), while ‘How It Goes’ throws a light sprinkling of smooth jazzy brass into the mix. Most of all however we see it in the alternate acoustic versions that come with the deluxe edition of the album (which is the only version in most places). The stripped back renditions of the aforementioned ‘Better Now’, ‘Drunk On You’ and ‘Hallelujah’ really let their vocals shine, and manage to turn these songs from being the album’s low points into being some of the duo’s finest moments yet. Hopefully the lesson that sometimes less is more is one that they take on board for their next record.