A review of weird!, the second album by erratic pop-punk Yorkshire singer YUNGBLUD. He may have exploded onto the scene two years ago, but does the new album deliver?
Dominic Harrison, better known as YUNGBLUD, is a generational talent. He's an artist who shows the young people he mainly represents that it’s OK to be different and prides himself on speaking up when it comes to social issues.
He has an erratic stage persona but in reality, he is just a tea-drinking Northerner who has a loving, passionate manner. Whether he’s hosting his BBC podcast The YUNGBLUD Podcast, YouTube channel or just being an interviewee, he is clearly as loud as his dress sense, but his energy is simply infectious and is best channelled through his music.
I became a fan of him following his 2018 debut album 21st Century Liability which marked his unignorable arrival on the UK alternative scene. It was an impressive collection of songs that boasted real lyrical honesty with a punk attitude. It was a brave and uncompromising display of his darkest thoughts and feelings.
He released his second album weird! (its name and all the track titles are lower case – Ariana Grande style) on 4th December 2020 and it had the same core ingredients as the debut. I’d heard the title track earlier in the year in what I thought was one of what would become a few standalone singles. As more tracks got released, I didn’t quite get around to listening to them. Then when I saw that they actually formed this album that was being released imminently, I was excited to listen to it as it was almost a complete blank canvas for me.
The opening song 'teresa' is a clever opener as it foreshadows the sort of post-pop-punk sound we hear on a few later tracks. It has a very nice breakdown towards the end where vocals come to the fore. Although it doesn’t excite too much, it is wholesome and uplifting: “We don’t need to say we’re dead”.
In comes a great one-two slap of 'cotton candy' & 'strawberry lipstick'. Both of these were lead singles that I was aware of but hadn’t heard. The former’s first riff is very similar to one in Tame Impala’s 'Let It Happen' and that can’t be a bad thing. It’s radio-friendly and its addictively poppy chorus “I’m losing myself in you, in you, in you, in you, I know” promises to get stuck in your head.
It contrasts really well with 'strawberry lipstick' which comes in heavier with an in-your-face sound but just as catchy. It even has a bit of a guitar solo for good measure.
Song three of this thirteen tracker is 'mars' and it's brilliant. With assured vocals over mid-tempo guitars, it’s strong evidence to argue that he’s at his best when he takes himself down a couple of notches in less-is-more fashion.
Similar in style to the title track of his debut album, 'superdeadfriends' is a fast-paced headbanger that belongs in a gym playlist. Part of the of second verse is palpably 2020: “Oh I got a travel ban from this planet. They locked me in a room with a man with no manners. We don’t care if you’re black or you’re white. Asian or sexually intertwined. It’s time to take a look at the world through our eyes. If you stick around you may like what you find.” “love song” is a slow one with beautiful lyrics as the title would suggest. For me it is one of his best vocal performances to date.
Then “god save me, but don’t drown me out” has echoey vocals and the drums take centre stage. Despite not listening to much of Thirty Seconds to Mars, it reminded me of one of theirs. Continuing the references, “ice cream man” seemed familiar and I think it gave me hints of Sum 41’s “In Too Deep” I didn’t really register this one on my first listen but it’s a great song now I’ve given it a few plays and thankfully starts with a sample of the standard music jingle heard from the ice cream van.
Title track “weird!” was one of the first in-pandemic songs I heard and was a brilliant single. As previously mentioned, whilst enjoying this at-the-time new song I didn’t know an album was to come. I was just happy for this brand new relatable track. The chorus belongs on any playlist that sums up the rollercoaster that 2020 has been: “Come hold my hand, hold it tight. We’re in a weird time of life. Don’t wreck your brain, it’ll be alright. We’re in a weird time of life.”
'charity'… Well, despite consistently flirting with Jamie T’s indie sound, he has finally produced something really similar to what he would create. Whilst Jamie T has taken a backseat in the industry, YUNGBLUD has partly filled the huge void he has left in my music habits with the alternative tracks that can have quick, flowing verses that dabble in rapping and fuse hip hop.
The song itself has a lovely chorus and its melody reminds me of the theme tune of Peep Show which is cool. I’ve just turned up the song to full volume as I write this line and wow, it’s so good. This might be my highlight on the album. P.S. COME BACK JAMIE T.
'acting like that (feat. Machine Gun Kelly)' is perhaps the only one that misses on the album. Admittedly it has a catchy chorus and could be in a guilty pleasure category for some, but it doesn’t really hit. The verses are a bit corny and it actually has the feel of a nostalgic one-hit wonder. I’ve not heard much of Machine Gun Kelly’s music so don’t want to comment too much but his voice is not really for me – it sounds a bit cliched.
The pace is slowed again with 'it’s quiet in beverly hills' and it’s a pleasant little number. Perhaps the most obviously Lockdown-made, the lyrics are observational and include some interesting social comment. Although it’s a sad sounding one it has a chorus that is loving and sweet: “I’ll love you all of my life, until you close your eyes for good.”
Closing track 'the freak show' has a solid autotune opening. Then enters a stage of some vocal “yeah” which is signature YUNGBLUD. A grand singalong chorus follows with crowd-like backing vocals and it is a fairly nice album-cap. It’s not too strong a finish to the album though.
I personally would have preferred the closer to be either really sad or instead pretty heavy so it could linger in the head. It was too clean an ending, maybe.
YUNGBLUD has a real knack for storytelling, a fine early example being in “Polygraph Eyes” from album one. He has clearly honed that skill since with his words playing the star role on this project despite a lot of great musicality. When you look up some of the lyrics some of them take on new meaning and are ideally ambiguous.
He speaks a lot about how he loves the community he has built with his fan base and it is no surprise so-called misfits find solace in his songs. He muses about being misunderstood and struggling to fit in but he has managed to cultivate this separate safe space within his community where it feels like a strength to be multi-faceted and hard to be put into a box by society.
Much like his first offering, weird! is a grower. I thought the album was solid on first listen, but in follow-up plays I was in a more suitable mood to interact with the emotions he lays out and the anger and passion he uses as weaponry to provoke reactions from the listener.
The album is a mainly expected one sonically but is playful enough in parts and does point towards an evolution into more deliberate, accomplished songwriting. One downside to him is that he can still sometimes stray into singing with a faux American accent when he is actually at his best when he is authentically Yorkshire vocally. I just solely want that Northern twang he naturally has to give us more of that Britpop essence.
Overall though, weird! has the creativity that we have come to expect from a mostly/entirely Lockdown-produced 2020 project. It stands out as it finds a particularly impressive balance of treading new ground whilst still being a recognisable comfort blanket for us in a tough year.