Text Alfonso Gomez
OJ Law’s fourth album – only his second physical release – opens plainfully with simple, saccharine piano keys (‘All We Have is Erased’) before seguing to synthesisers, vaguely alluding to Kanye West’s magnum opus, and this decade’s first classic, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF). Odd comparison one would think, but both albums are an exercise in crafting the perfect pop record and both albums feature considerably more piano leitmotifs than what the respective artistes were previously known for. To further this analogy, Yeezy’s metamorphosis from former backpack rapper to proper pop/rock star figure was only achieved via his transfixion of the Roland TR-808 that resulted in 808s & Heartbreak. Similarly, Law is as obsessed with his newly minted Juno-60 and Prophet 08 on this album. But whereas 808s didn’t care for critical response in its experimentation, Law heads straight to the pop canon à la MBDTF.
This makes sense. The piano, electronic or not, is an underused instrument in current pop music (replaced by drum pads) even if it makes the most immediately registerable musical notes to the laymen (provided you’re not playing a virtuoso piece) – exactly the reason why oftentimes it’s used as a compositional tool. That fact helps a lot with the design of Let’s Be Adult – Law understands the importance of reinforced repetition in pop, and this album amplifies that trope to its limit by doubling the amount of recurring notes than expected. Naturally, a piano-synth combo lends the album a catchiness that previous album Yesterday is a Distant Dream didn’t quite attain.
Furthering the motif even more, the lyrical composition of the album is treated the same as its musical composition as well. The aforementioned first track consists of eight original lines, each multiplied to make nine full stanzas. On other songs, like the seminal second single ‘Introverts’, repetition is used as something of an ellipsis, pointedly trailing off as the point of unrequited love is made via a phrasal exclamation mark in “Solitaire, solitaire, sound of silence,” a prosaic lexical borrowing (solitaire is also solitary in French). Then, ‘It’s Not Enough To Be In Love (With You)’ shares Sibu band M.O.I.S.T’s penchant for turning bare, John Hughes-worthy movie-style short dialogues into lyrical content. One would imagine John Cusack plaintively saying “There are things that I find similar about us, and, and (stuttering) it’s not enough to be in love with you [because] I want you more than love,” before Law bookends the hypothetical movie with a disco-derivative tune (‘Tongue-Tied’ maybe?).
Writing lyrics isn’t quite analogous to prose. Exhibiting a rhythmic structure like poetry, words on a song are not separate from songwriting – at times it’s even dissimilar to poetry in that the meaning in lyrics can be abandoned, as how most rappers would treat the spoken word; just another layer of instrumentation (percussive in their case). Law utilises this approach on Let’s Be Adult (as evident in this month’s interview with the man) – it is not enough to write based on the end meaning of the lyrics, the enunciation of the word, each inflection of its syllables, needs to be given as much thought as a single chord used. To manage both – the meaning and sound of lyrics – is a difficult feat, and while at times Law seems to sacrifice one or the other on this album, title track ‘Let’s Be Adult’ absolutely accomplishes it.
To cite the recent interview with Law again, while he could never see himself topping the storytelling achievement of ‘Rooftop’, he should be feted for the overall storytelling of this album. ‘Let’s Be Adult’ is like the best of end chapters, a thematic encapsulation of the whole album in one fell swoop. It’s didactic, sure, but there is pleasure to be had from experiencing something structured with a proper culmination point that spells out exactly what you had thought of the work.
Perhaps Let’s Be Adult’s overall impact on listeners should be allowed to decant over a year or two first, after all pop albums are regularly immediately pleasing and listenable to both trained and untrained ears before losing much of its lustre. But let’s be adult (and much less pretentious) about it for now – OJ Law’s fourth album is a potent pop record heavily repeated on our playlist.