Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy first came to international attention in 2013 with Riptide. A huge worldwide hit, the song has sold 1.2 million copies in the UK alone and catapulted Joy’s 2014 album Dream Your Life Away to success across the globe. Now he’s released the follow-up, Nation Of Two, which has been described as a concept album about a couple immersed in their own little world.
The record opens with Call Me If You Need Me, which balances a sharp driving rhythm alongside Joy’s rich, slightly gravelly vocal. At times his voice almost quavers, resonant with emotion, which stands out against the simple arrangement of the track. It then segues into upbeat lead single Lay It On Me, an irresistible toe-tapping number with a pounding drumbeat and a chorus that demands a festival crowd to sing along to it.
Although it’s ostensibly a concept album, there isn’t really a linear feel to the record. Instead it jumps between moments in a couple’s relationship – almost like a musical version of the film (500) Days Of Summer. Throughout the album Joy builds up the layers in the songs, often starting with an acoustic guitar melody before adding in drums and horn sections. This arrangement allows his vocals to shine throughout, whether that’s on the soft, midtempo We’re Going Home, the pop-influenced Saturday Sun or the rockier One Of These Days. His voice has a lovely smooth quality to it and he’s able to pack a lot of emotion into the songs, particularly when hitting the high notes, but without being overblown.
For me the middle section of the album is its strongest. The gorgeous imagery of an all-consuming love in the 90s-influenced I’m With You is made all the more impactful by Joy keeping things low-key, whilst Like Gold has real depth – Joy does a great job of conveying resignation, bitterness and sorrow all at the same time and still making you want to sing along at the top of your lungs. Meanwhile, the shimmering Alone With Me is the perfect soundtrack to a sunny summer afternoon and the intensity of Crashing Into You (with a melody that reminded me of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication) is tempered by Joy’s subdued approach, making it more positive and romantic.
However, if I had to choose one standout track, it would be Little Boy. A departure from the other songs on the record, it’s a nostalgic flashback to childhood with a gentle intro that switches tempo halfway through and ends with an almost cinematic image. Joy is excellent at knowing when to let songs breathe, and this is a great example of that.
The album comes to a close with Where We Start, and in my view this song perfectly sums up the record. Its sparse guitar melody highlights the quality in Joy’s vocal and the simple arrangement means the emotion of the lyrics comes to the fore, ending the album on a hopeful note.
Overall, whilst Nation Of Two is not the most groundbreaking album in the world, fans of Vance Joy will love it. It’s packed with catchy choruses, vivid imagery and solid storytelling and shows his skill at capturing the big and small moments in life. It’s a strong piece of work with a solid narrative thread running through it and I can see every song on it being played on the radio or soundtracking laid-back weekend mornings for months to come. If you like singer-songwriters or a folkier twist on your pop songs, then this one is for you.
Track listing: 1. Call If You Need Me 2. Lay It On Me 3. We’re Going Home 4. Saturday Sun 5. Take Your Time 6. I’m With You 7. Like Gold 8. Alone With Me 9. Crashing Into You 10. One Of These Days 11. Little Boy 12. Bonnie & Clyde 13. Where We Start Release date: 23rd February 2018 Record label: Atlantic Records