At an all-you-can-eat restaurant there’s a basic, deadly important rule: top your plate up, by all means, but make sure that you give yourself enough room for three or four returns to the buffet. That’s how you hit the sweet spot. Go hard too soon and you risk not getting your money’s worth. Try and push it past the fourth plate though and you will probably end up ruining your entire evening. Too much food consumed too quickly can bring on an overwhelming feeling of shame – not to mention stomach cramps.
Desire Marea’s second solo album, On The Romance of Being, brings this sort of overindulgence away from the buffet and into your ear canals, to mixed results. It feels like an understatement to say that the album contains an absolute plethora of sounds. In theory, it contains everything you could possibly want: orchestral builds, free jazz drumming, heavy rock distortion, theatrical vocals, synthetic funk and even a smattering post-punk moodiness. Unfortunately though, as great as tracks like ‘Ezulwini’ (electronica-infused orchestral sad pop) and ‘Be Free’ (jazzy dance explosions) might promise to be on paper, in reality we’re left with an overwhelming mishmash of disparate sounds.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the album is that, despite the clashes in style, it never sounds chaotic. There’s an odd lack of danger on show that causes everything to appear extremely considered, even during Marea’s most freeform moments. In any other setting the rapid genre changes of ‘Banzi’ would be invigorating, but within the confines of On The Romance of Being the track feels expected and unexciting, rather than startling and fresh.
Despite all this, at certain points the album does somehow manage to pull it all together. The weird and wonderful Twin Peaks-isms of ‘Makhukhu’ in particular suggest that Marea’s experimentation can work in the right setting. Unfortunately though, these moments are few and far between. For the most part we’re left with a collection of songs that just manage to miss the mark.
While it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scope and sonic exploration on show, more often than not On The Romance of Being amounts to far less than the sum of its parts, proving that it pays to show some restraint at the aural buffet. Four plates max, Desire. Four plates max.