Tom Krell, the artist behind How to Dress Well alternately sounds like the most miserable, and most serene man alive. He kickstarted the indie-R&B phase back in 2010 with Love Remains, a record of fuzzed out electronics and obfuscated melodies. Each of his releases since then has been about allowing everything involved in How to Dress Well to become more clear. Sonically, his music has become crisp and sweeping, and he has transformed into a legitimately top-tier R&B vocalist. His lyrics are themes have become much more explicit and focussed, and with all this change it can be hard to see the resemblance between Love Remains and Care, his latest release. Luckily for Krell, the change has been positive, and Care functions as the logical conclusion to his growth from a reclusive indie gem, to a full-blown pop artist.
By far the most striking thing about Care, is just how willing to embrace cheese and corniness Krell is. He’s cited Celine Dion as an influence on the album, and it’s not hard to see the resemblance. Tracks like What’s Up and Made a Lifetime are sunny and uplifting to an almost comical degree, with lush pianos and soaring strings shimmering over gentle percussion. Jack Antonoff produced a number of the tracks on the album, and his influence is palpable. However, in spite of taking substantial risks, the album never quite crosses the line into MOR, mawkish territory, largely due to Krell’s impeccable lyricism.
Lead single Lost You/Lost Youth is a perfect convergence between sound and concept, as Krell crafts a gigantic ballad out of warm, multilayered vocals, all whilst singing about a fear or commitment. Most artists would aim for a simpler, more easily expressed theme, but Krell is such an efficient lyricist that he can get across a wealth of meaning with relatively few words. The first line to the chorus – “I think I know what love is now” – communicates so much uncertainty and hope, that by the time he sings the coda – “say you’re all that I want / do anything you say / but then I wait and it’s another day” – it’s crushing.
This contrast between overtly happy sounds and dark, brooding lyrics brings to mind another album, Gossamer by Passion Pit. As Care will likely be, Gossamer was extremely divisive, with many being unable to digest the dissonance of stories about alcoholism and bipolar disorder being told through skittles-infused, hyper-caffeinated pop music. Care has a notably different sound to that record, given that it aims for something closer to 90’s power ballads, but the contrast remains just as vivid. Sometimes it proves to be too much, like when Krell opens Anxious by singing “why am I so pathetic?” over sunny guitars, but when the album works, it is transformative. Even though it’s somewhat uneven, its high points are high enough to make Care well worth a listen.