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Review: Twin Shadow Is Ready for Love on ‘Eclipse’

8
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: March 13, 2015
Label: Warner Bros.

George Lewis Jr., better known under his previously guitar-wielding, leather-jacket-wearing alias Twin Shadow, has said that he finished recording his third album, Eclipse, before leaving indie standard-bearing label 4AD to make the jump to Warner Bros. Even if so, though, it’s probably not a coincidence that two of the album’s best songs, “I’m Ready” and “Locked & Loaded,” serve as declarations of preparedness for wide-scale embracing: Eclipse is the sound of an artist primed to let the world in, to play for higher stakes and leave it all on the table. Lewis might not have known that he would have major-label backing for the LP, but there’s little doubt that he had his sights set well beyond the indie world when making it.

Listening now to the album’s predecessor, 2012’s Confess, it’s striking how tightly wound the album sounds particularly on the second side, the songs percolate with drama and suspense, but seem to be building for explosions that never quite come. Even lead single “Five Seconds,” the gorgeously swooning ’80s pop pastiche that probably stands as his most popular song to date, is fraught with tension throughout, nowhere moreso than in the chorus, a countdown that keeps getting stuck before reaching liftoff. It was an exciting but frustrating listen, and it was fair to wonder what the guy would sound like if he just let go a little.

With Eclipse, we have our answer. The album is filled with pure payoff — gigantic hooks, effusive sing-along choruses, songs that go exactly where you want them to go. It crackles with the same kind of nervy energy as Confess, but now there’s release to reward all the tension. The quivering intimacy of Shadow’s best songs is more palpable here than ever, but rather than engineer the LP for the bedroom, Lewis plays it to ring out from the rooftops. It’s stadium soul, doing away with most of the new-wave influences of his earlier work in favor of a sound that has just as much in common with OneRepublic and Imagine Dragons as it does with James Blake and How to Dress Well.

If that sounds like a contentious proposition, it probably shouldn’t. What Eclipse proved last year with the wailing advance single “To the Top” is that Lewis’ voice, alternately low and trembling and guttural and piercing, is too powerful an instrument to be restrained to anything less than the anthemic. In a telling Pitchfork interview, Lewis mentioned that he didn’t plan on playing guitar anymore, after deciding his words were his true “tool of communication,” and indeed, there’s much less six-string action on this album though when it does show up, unfurled in blasts on the verse to “Turn Me Up” and the intro to “I’m Ready,” it scorches like a fireball as his vocals rightfully take center stage. It doesn’t sound like a sellout; if anything, it’s just a course-correction.

It works especially well because Shadow’s writing is sharper than ever. Some of the bigger songs can give way to bluster on their choruses it’s difficult to say just what to make of the hooks to “To the Top” and “Turn Me Up,” sounding more in love with the sound of their title phrases than in any particular sentiment being conveyed but even the latter is full of chest-pummeling couplets like “You got me needing you like some religion / You told me go away like it’s my decision.” The way the lyric of Lily Elise duet “Alone” evolves from “I hadn’t seen you since and didn’t plan to” to “I haven’t seen you since and I don’t plan to” in its denouement is veteran songcraft at its finest, and the framing of “Old Love / New Love” around a phone call from an old flame inspires some of Lewis’ most evocative and discomfiting lyrics (“Drill me to the floor This hurts even more than I expected it to do“).

Despite being the oldest song on the album, “Old Love / New Love” is also the most exciting for Shadow’s future, showing his ability to filter his romantic mania into dancefloor ecstasy, a direction that could open all sorts of possibilities for a singer now willing to wield his vocals like Martha Wash or Loleatta HollowayRather than diluting Lewis’ appeal, the mainstream-accessible, arena-sized sound of Eclipse feels like it’s unlocking the potential for Lewis to reach new heights with his indie-dressed soul-pop. It may or may not inspire the masses to embrace Twin Shadow, but the fact that he has his arms open to them in the first place is the most important thing.