Nation of Two
Atlantic Records · February 23, 2018
It’s been five years since the release of ‘Riptide’, the first single from Vance Joy’s debut EP, God Loves You When You’re Dancing and one of Joy’s greatest hits, both commercially and critically. With its infectious melody and clever lyrics, it peaked at 30 in Billboard’s’ Top 100 and has more than 500 million listens on Spotify. Since then, Joy released an album in 2014 titled, Dream Your Life Away that received generally positive reviews, with Jaymz Clements from Rolling Stone Australia taking note that “there’s more to Vance Joy than ‘Riptide.’” Things looked good for Joy, but that was before he chose to release a third album, titled Nation of Two.
Nation of Two opens with ‘Call If You Need Me,’ which shows Joy’s trademark vocal range and guitar strumming. It’s a good song, but not really anything to write home about. ‘Lay It On Me’ comes next, with much of the same but with trumpets in the chorus to add some pizzazz. Again, not bad. They’re fun songs but forgettable, sounding more like second hand Lumineer songs than anything else. And then Joy hits us with his third track, “We’re Going Home,” where he takes a different direction– more boy-band than campy–still with the same dull outcome: a few vocal highlights paired with lyrics only slightly smarter than what an AI would write if you fed it One Direction songs.
The rest of the album follows this pattern: Joy brings in the guitar strumming, the tambourines, a solid and interesting vocal range and pairs them with lyrics that belong in a Hallmark card. ‘I’m With You’ is one of the few that strays from this album’s desire to be the soundtrack to a feel-good coming-of-age film. The chorus hints at some of his old melodies and despite the very basic lyrics, it could be the lack of the tambourine and indie try-hard sound that makes it stand out. But, we go back to the same old sound with ‘Like Gold,’ ‘Alone With Me,’ ‘Crashing Into You,’ etc. You get the picture.
‘Little Boy’ is one of the few tracks that is not about romance, but rather about a father-son relationship, presumably Joy’s with his father. Joy doesn’t particularly stretch himself with the cleverness of his lyrics but unlike his other generalized love songs, the personal story that they reveal allows him to sing “I’ll always be that little boy” without sounding (that) cringy.
One of the aspects that gained Joy critical praise in the past was his clever use of pop culture references, and in ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ Joy attempts to make those once again but falls flat. The song starts off as a very literal description of coming out of the cinema in the morning after watching a movie about Bonnie and Clyde and then: “So we might as well say / What’s on our minds / ‘Cause there’s no waiting, no / When it’s your time to go.” It’s about being honest since you don’t know when everything will end, but then it takes a turn and becomes a song about leaving your sins behind: “Don’t matter where you’ve been / You jump into the water and you’ll come out clean.” Whether this is a song about relationships or life, I couldn’t say but either way, it’s a miss.
Vance Joy is not a one-hit wonder, nor is this album some kind of god-awful campy nightmare. Some of the songs grow on you after a couple listens and at the end of the day, Joy is a talented musician and if his genre is your cup of tea, I don’t see why you’d avoid his music. But it does feel somewhat stagnant, lacking any real depth or emotion. If only the lyrics weren’t so basic, the melodies weren’t so repetitive. If only it seemed like Joy was making any effort to do something different. But as long as Joy remains in his comfort zone, his most popular tracks will continue to be from an album he released years ago.
When I think of this album, I think of ‘Alone With Me,’ one of the slower tracks containing the lyrics “Here I am saying things to you” and “Here we are I’m doing things with you.” Well, here I am Vance Joy, already forgetting this album.
Nation of Two is like a five-dollar heart-shaped box of chocolates: a nice gift but after the initial excitement wears off, it’s just a box of cheap chocolate you’ll leave on the kitchen table for a week until your roommate throws them away.