Since Kristin Welchez (formerly Dee Dee of the Dum Dum Girls) has created a whole new alter ego in Kristin Kontrol for this solo album, it would’ve been naïve to expect more of the same. Of course X-Communicate was always going to be something of a departure. However, whatever it was you were expecting to hear, it almost certainly wasn’t this.
Indeed, as the first track ‘Show Me’ begins, its drum-machiney, synthy Eighties pop revivalism could have you wondering if you’ve got the right record. It sounds like Welchez is trying to ditch her 'effortlessly cool' thing for unabashed, unselfconscious, good, fun pop. Problem is, it doesn’t come across as unselfconscious; it comes across as very self-conscious, and that often makes it sound more than a little artificial. Everyone has the right to depart musically, but this doesn’t feel like it reveals anything new about Welchez; it sounds more like an academic exercise than anything sincere. The poppy lyrical hooks like “No I cannot say no to love” in ‘White Street’ certainly don’t sound sincere, because they don’t feel like her real lyrical voice, and it’s hard to believe that she’s expressing anything particularly 'real' on title track ‘X-Communicate’ given that the sentence “Should we excommunicate our love” makes absolutely no sense.
That said, the album hangs together very well indeed, and every track is a perfectly fine pop song. Some of them are even good. All of them, though, are missing something that would make them great. The frustrating part is, it’s not even as if Kristin has a specific problem she could work on, since they all seem to be missing something different, with other pop tools like the saxophones on ‘Show Me’ and the guitars on tracks like ‘White Street’ and ‘Face 2 Face’ seemingly deployed because they are things that great pop songs have. ‘Show Me’ and ‘Drive the Night’ stay at the same level for the whole song, with little to no dynamic variation, while songs such as ‘X-Communicate’ have dynamic variation but also an earnestness about their lyrics that lack sincerity or indeed coherence. ‘Face 2 Face’ and ‘Going Thru the Motions’ make sense, but are far too slow and a bit too clumsy to be dancey pop hits. Not every song has to be upbeat, of course, but they just don’t quite pick you up into having fun. And while Dave Grohl’s 40-seconds-max-to-get-to-the-chorus rule might be a bit extreme, the lyrically strongest track on X-Communicate ‘What Is Love’ takes 32 seconds just to get to the pre-verse, and then a further 41 to get to the part that feels like the actual first verse of the song. This one then lacks that vital pop ingredient of brevity, an ingredient that might not feel vital, but then you listen to this song.
Hints of Kristin’s indie past are still present in some of the lyrics, like in closer ‘Smoke Rings’ when she sings, “Inspired of all the bullshit of these dog days / Got a club of dead friends, got a general malaise”. She has dressed these words up in the most Eighties-y music on the album, as if to make sure it didn’t make us think she might be – whisper it – still an indie girl at heart. Unfortunately though, the contrived nature of this combination only draw attention to these hints of indie seeping through the cracks.
It doesn’t feel like there’s anything wrong as such with this record; indeed, it’s nice to have some dance pop from a label we can trust rather than a major churning out opiate-of-the-masses stuff to keep women in line. Aside from that though, X-Communicate doesn’t really add to the existing musical landscape. The sense of worship for the genre is laid on a bit thick sometimes too, even in the titles (see ‘Face 2 Face’, ‘Going Thru the Motions’ and ‘(Don’t) Wannabe’). So maybe the thing Kristin needs most is a sense of uniqueness.
5Nina Keen's Score