James Vincent McMorrow: Grapefruit Season – Fertile hope and abandon

Fri, Sep 17, 2021, 05:00

   
 

Album:
Grapefruit Season

Artist:
James Vincent McMorrow

Label:
Sony Music/ Columbia Records

Genre:
Singer / Songwriter

James Vincent McMorrow didn’t intend to become the face of Irish live music during the Covid-19 pandemic, but then again, not very much has gone to plan for the Malahide-born artist these past 18 months. As the first headline act to play a socially distanced, outdoor music event back in June, McMorrow set the scene for a summer of give-and-take between the Irish events industry and the Government, which endures still into autumn. 

McMorrow’s fifth album was another casualty. Planned for release in 2020, it was shelved by his label – twice – until this summer 2021, and again until September. Recorded between London, Los Angeles and Dublin and produced with Paul Epworth, Kenny Beats, Lil Silva and Patrick Wimberly (half of synth-pop duo Chairlift), Grapefruit Season arrives as a very different beast; four songs were added during the lockdown months, broadening the tracklist into more reflective territories, split between electro-pop fusion and introspective ballads. 

Of the former, Paradise is a peppy, electronic-driven track made for getting out of Dodge on a summer’s day, while Gone showcases the best of his shift towards tropical-infused, heavy beats. Still, he’s reflective in tone, not pretending to have all the answers; “I give less f**ks than I used to; still give a lot.” 

I Should Go cuts through its deceptive, infectious groove – courtesy of Kenny Beats – by sitting with social anxiety: “I don’t want to think I missed a party, then I go and I hate everyone.” The solution? A repetitive, toxic cycle: “Find somebody, and love somebody, kill somebody, start again.” 

Near the midpoint, a run of ballads varies in execution. Waiting, written partly in response to the pandemic, takes stock of the highs and lows of the past 18 months – the anticipation of seeing “if my hope will grow back” – to great effect. Meanwhile, Poison to You finds McMorrow’s falsetto driving a chorus that, blended with grand expressive piano chords and swelling strings, approaches over-sentimentality. 

The pace is slowed further by We Don’t Kiss Under Umbrellas Like We Used To, where a pretty but predictable Travis-picked guitar line underscores a love song that, compared with the sharp lyrical observations elsewhere, lacks a certain bite. McMorrow’s best work fuses his nimble lyricism with more expressive musicality: the infectious bass line on Planes in the Sky, for instance, or the twinkling, sparse piano of Headlights.

Part of Me is an apt curtaincall that doesn’t dare offer solutions, only permission to recognise the symptoms of chaos. It’s an ending punctuated by a sigh – of despair or relief, we don’t know. It’s in the ambiguity, the uncertainty, the liminal spaces between hope and abandon, that McMorrow finds thoughtful, fertile ground.