George Lewis Jr. ditches the guitar, ups the synths, and goes full power ballad
by Jericho Cerrona
George Lewis Jr. has never been interested in subtlety. That needs to be pointed out right away, since there will likely be criticisms lopped at his latest opus Eclipse in regards to pretension and bombast. In fact, 2012's Confess was a somber epic apparently inspired by a motorcycle accident; full of 80s-influenced New Wave ballads cribbed from The Police by way of The Running Man soundtrack. Add in a touch of Prince sexuality, Morrissey-style romanticism, and a nostalgic album cover showcasing Lewis donning a black leather jacket, and you had the encapsulation of a self-made moniker that began with critically acclaimed 2010 debut Forget. However, for all its analog keyboards, rhythmic drum machines, and sultry crooning, Confess never quite made the case that Lewis was the real deal. There was a discernible smugness underneath the gaudy pop bombast which betrayed the dominican-born musician's undeniable ambition. Still, cuts like the rapturous "Golden Light" and the swooning "When The Movie's Over" from Confess were tough to beat; perfectly distilling Lewis' fabricated counter-culture image with immaculate retro production.
With Eclipse, Lewis has driven his Twin Shadow alter ego to the breaking point, delivering an earnestly overblown record which desperately courts massive commercial success. The problem with this is that even though his last two efforts were generally well-received, they nonetheless operated under the radar of the mainstream. By dropping a major-label debut without a real contextual framework on album number three, Lewis effectively gives us something no one was asking for; a big, brash, attention-grabbing attempt at 80s-tinged radio pop from an artist who remains largely unknown. This sense of straining for importance, of navel-gazing at the expense of artistic merit, is at the heart of Eclipse, which aesthetically and sonically feels huge, but at its heart is a flimsy basis for sustaining Lewis' ego. Instead of smaller moments building into crescendos, this is a record made up almost entirely of crescendos. Not content to allow his songs to grow organically, Lewis amps everything up to 11 right from the start, which essentially makes the listening experience a repetitive affair.
The album's opener "Flatliners" is a good example of this paradigm. While it begins with a morose piano motif and some atmospheric background synth work, the song quickly erupts into an unabashed heartbreak ballad, full of trite lyrical concerns about broken promises and romantic disillusionment. Lewis's voice strains for arena-level emotion, but it's not that convincing. Like most of the tracks here, it simply seems like he's half-heartedly going through the motions rather than delivering moments of genuine inspiration. While the whole homage/pastiche trend hasn't completely gone by the wayside in 2015, Lewis' obsession with Springsteen rock swagger and Morrissey cool feels pretty tired at this point. If the Twin Shadow character had an interesting arc that both commented on the music's influences as well as traversing the problems of love in our digital age, then Eclipse might have been a fascinating album. But Lewis doesn't seem that interested in commentary or intellectual rigor; instead, on a song like "To the Top" for instance, he simply makes corny 80s arena rock. This isn't an appropriation of a specific outdated style, but rather further proof that the 80s were a very bad time for popular music. Rather than take something now seen as "cool" through the prism of nostalgic fetishization and subvert it, Lewis merely pumps up the chest-pounding bombast until it falls apart under the weight of it's own triteness.
Lyrically, Lewis has also never been that adept at nuance, which isn't necessarily an issue given the grandiose production and earnestness at play, but the superficiality of the writing here is still a problem. Lines like You got me needing you like some religion/ You told me go away like it's my decision from "Turn Me Up" and Drill me to the floor/ This hurts even more than I expected it to from "Old Love/New Love" are par for the course, and the gigantic choruses over pounding drums and cheesy guitar solos only exasperates the pain. Taking cues from 80s groups such as The Human League and Eurythmics isn't a bad idea in theory, but those outfits exemplified a certain self-aware playfulness that Twin Shadow clearly lacks. By coming across like a man wholly obsessed and concerned with himself, Lewis can't help but coming across as grossly self-involved. There's no wit or humor here; and the kind of self-effacing charm that someone like Morrissey had in terms of blowing out the melodrama is largely absent from Twin Shadow's repertoire. On the other end of the spectrum, there is some 90s dance-pop on "Old Love/ New Love", complete with a duet with D'Angelo Lacy, woah woah vocal refrains and a crisp deep house beat, and on "Alone", things slow down a bit for piano-laden balladry with alternating vocals from R&B/ Pop singer Lily Elise. On these two tracks, there's a sense that Lewis is at least attempting something more intimate, though the production still remains overwrought.
This last point ultimately overwhelms even the glimmers of strong songwriting and moments where Lewis hits on something special. The overproduced gloss slapped onto nearly every inch of this thing means that for all of the yearning on display, the most pronounced impression one comes away with is just how ludicrous it all sounds. To be fair, the 80s were a decade rife with over-emoting ridiculousness, excessive production, and fast-food mainstream pop, but Eclipse is all overblown masculine posturing at a time where retro nostalgia has reached an over-saturation point. The bridge between the lo-fi bedroom recordings found on Forget and the grander production quality of Confess has toppled over completely; and all that is left is the sight of Lewis' alter ego drowning in big-league swagger and ill-advised lunges at Top 40 stardom.