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Owl City - 'The Midsummer Station' (Album Review)


If you are one of those crazy UK kids, then you will most likely remember a certain little song called “Fireflies” by an artist who went under the name Owl City (birth name Adam Young) that reached the number 1 spot in the UK Top 40 Singles chart back in January 2010. The song gained a lot of popularity due to the fact that no one had ever heard a sound like it before in the generic UK music charts. The sound was smooth and mesmerising while remaining upbeat and catchy at the same time, and featured some very interesting lyrics about insomnia, fireflies and summer. The song the album came from was 'Ocean Eyes' and contained great songs that rocked in a similar fashion.

He then released a follow-up album called “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, released June 2011, and most fans would tell you that it is a great addition to his discography. It was very different from Ocean Eyes, especially in regards to a lot of the production and Adam Young's vocals. The production was more dynamic and polished and the vocals were more passionate and realistic, but the main element of any great Owl City song was still present, those lyrics that carry you once again to a dream like world. Some of the songs were even for the diehard fans of Adam Young’s older efforts, being reminiscent of Maybe I'm Dreaming, Ocean Eyes and sometimes even the Of June EP.

So a year has passed and a new Owl City album, 'The Midsummer Station' has been released. In fact it was released on the 17th of August. Now I understand any Owl City fan will come onto this page and perhaps disagree with what I have to say, but I am not asking you to agree with me. In fact, if you love this album, then good for you, as I really wish I could understand what it is that you like about it.


So I understand that artists can make whatever music they please, they have total control. It's not like it used to be back in the days of Boyzone and One Direction (wait, what?). I respect that Adam Young may have thought to himself, "Hey I really want to make something a bit more poppy that is good to dance to". Heck, he collaborated with Carly Rae Jepsen on one of the songs on this album, and let's face it, if you want to make a pop song for the kids to dance to, why not hire one of the most promising upcoming faces in pop music?

Now here's the thing. Good Times (the track Adam did with Carly) is not a bad tune, in fact, it is a really good pop song. However there is one thing that kind of stopped me in my tracks, the lyrics. The lyrics are totally not Owl City. Okay I understand that Adam Young wrote the lyrics, but that isn't the point. Look, let me do a comparison:

Woke up on the right side of the bed
What's up with this Prince song inside my head?
Hands up if you're down to get down tonight
Cuz it's always a good time.

Slept in all my clothes like I didn't care

Hopped into a cab, take me anywhere
I'm in if you're down to get down tonight
Cuz it's always a good time
'Good Times' by Owl City featuring Carly Rae Jepsen (2012)

Affection, the gifted architect
Is making a draft and beautiful design
The options and possibilities
Are endless when we connect and realign

Collections of books and documents
Arise and parade around my cluttered desk
Reworking the math and measurements
Until I'm convinced these plans are picturesque
Like mountains in the Midwest
'Designer Skyline' by Owl City (2007)

Notice a very very obvious difference between the lyrics? What happened here? The only lyrics I could imagine Adam actually writing in that verse from Good Times is the 'woke up on the right side of the bed' line. The lyrics of Owl City are about escapism, lyrics about having an amazing social life does not count as escapism. The winning Owl City formula that I knew and loved is missing from this song, and it hurts me to say this, the whole album. No more being whisked away to that dream world for us any more, lads. I have always waited eagerly for any new Owl City tracks because he is probably the only artist I know who writes tonnes of deep dream-like songs. So when he stops singing about dreams, what does Owl City even mean to me any more? Most of the lyrics on this album don't flow well at all and collapse on themselves before they can even try to attempt to hold themselves up. 

Lyrics aside, perhaps the awesome production Adam Young provides us with can show us the way. Not a chance. 6 out of the 12 tracks on The Midsummer Station are overproduced with the same repetitive, generic forgettable dance-pop production. On some of the songs Adam collaborated on production with some pop producers. One of the songs even add in dubstep and another has some weird wild west guitar, and if I'm honest, doesn't sound awful, but this isn't what I listen to Owl City for.

But don't think that there are just bad songs on this album. No way. There are some real gems to add to the list of Owl City songs to love. Unfortunately there is not enough of them. The songs that stand out on this album are Shooting Star (has a tiny wee spark of that Owl City dreamy magic that I really miss), Gold (well, it's just darn catchy), Dementia (featuring Mark Hoppus of blink-182, so of course it's going to be good), Embers (like Dementia, this one has kind of a rock vibe to it) and finally Silhouette (a beautifully honest song that really exposes Adam's deeper side that was lost on the lyrically lacking tracks). But the thing is, Owl City had already released a little 'taster' EP called Shooting Star which contained 4 tracks from this album. It should have just stayed that way because the rest of the songs on the album just don't live up to those songs.


Perhaps in time I will learn to appreciate this album, but for now, and after a few listens, I just cannot get into it. No hate to Owl City at all, I have loved his music for a good few years now (probably since 2008) so I have nothing to hold against a guy that has made me happy for so long. But it is like what JonTron says in his review of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, "I hate that I have to hate this game" and the same goes for The Midsummer Station. I hate that I can't understand this album! But as my dad said to me, who is also an Owl City fan but a much bigger fan of The Beatles, "Even The Beatles had an album that I wasn't mad about". I just hope Adam doesn't think that the success of his Good Times single means he should churn out more same-y bubblegum pop, because it might get a little bit too sweet to tolerate. The worldwide chart success of Fireflies shows that he doesn't have to abandon his winning formula in order to make a hit record.

 
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