BØRNS plays to his strengths on ‘Blue Madonna’
Grace Weissend | Tuesday, January 23, 2018
On Garrett Borns’ sophomore album as BØRNS, the indie pop artist sticks to what he knows. “Blue Madonna” is 12 tracks of airy, danceable, lustful pop music, and it’s exactly what one would expect from a BØRNS album in the best way.
“Faded Heart” was the first bit of “Blue Madonna” to hit the airwaves back in July. Second on the album, the track was the perfect opening single for Borns’ return — it’s relentlessly on-brand with a stripped-down sound on the verses building to an eruption of violins, grunge-y guitar and falsetto in the chorus. In fact, the more you listen to it, the more you’re not sure if you’re listening to “Faded Heart” or “Electric Love” off his 2015 first studio album “Dopamine.” Not that I’m complaining; Borns understands what works for him, and he’s milking it for all it’s worth.
Don’t get me wrong – “Blue Madonna” is a thoroughly enjoyable listen, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for innovative, original pop music. However, you get the sense that Borns didn’t stretch himself terribly hard since “Dopamine.” Almost every song on “Blue Madonna” sounds pretty similar to the one before it, and the lyrics refuse to divulge anything specific or personal. The lyrics revel in classic love song cliches. It’d be borderline irritating if the music didn’t dig itself all the way under your skin and force your bones to start dancing.
There are, of course, exceptions to this pattern, and it’s in those moments where you can see Borns’ artistic growth. The formulaic first half of “Blue Madonna” gives way to the last seven surprise-filled tracks. “Iceberg” is stripped down and honest in a way that’s refreshing, even if it’s not the best song on the album. It’s an anxiety-driven tune anyone who’s felt like they’re in too deep too soon can relate to. “I Don’t Want U Back” features the strongest lyrics on the album. They’re the words you didn’t know you needed at those times when you see your ex out on the town after a few drinks — “I should’ve known better but the liquor got me thinking I miss ya / I should’ve taken two steps back but I wanted to kiss ya / Every time you flash those eyes you make me reminisce ya / You’re looking fine but I’d be lying if I said I wanted you back.” The final track, “Bye-bye Darling,” is the most out-of-place in the best way possible, with an Elton John–like piano track anchoring the song’s sweet, heartache-y mood. Although he’s addressing a lost love, it feels like Borns is signing off to his fans until the next album, sigh-singing “We had a good run darling now don’t you cry.”
Borns also aimed to refresh his sound through collaborations with ethereal pop queen Lana Del Rey, who is featured on the opening song “God Save Our Young Blood” and on the titular track “Blue Madonna.” Borns’ and Del Rey’s voices sound exquisite together in a musical alliance I didn’t know I wanted until I heard it. However, while Del Rey’s contribution could have really elevated Borns’ sound and style, the two tracks feel a bit lackluster and unemotional. As pleasant as it is, this match made in pop heaven doesn’t quite live up to the hype it inspires.
The problem with “Blue Madonna” is that any BØRNS fan will get the sense that there could be more. With Borns’ vocal range, evocative sound and originality, this second album doesn’t do his abilities justice. Borns is an electric blue neon sign lighting up the quasi-mainstream pop scene — he’s still illuminating the musical landscape, but he could definitely be shining a little bit brighter, standing out a little more. I can’t wait to hear what’s next.
Album: Blue Madonna
Label: Interscope Records
Favorite Tracks: “Faded Heart,” “I Don’t Want U Back,” “Bye-bye Darling”
If you like: Banks, Bleachers, Lorde
Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5