Vance Joy’s “Nation of Two” sounds like One Direction decided to give indie folk music a go.
Though “Nation of Two” retains the same musical style of Joy’s first album with his ukulele riffs and slightly strained vocals, the album’s production is a step up from “Dream Your Life Away.” Joy adds in more harmonies, horns and drums to his ukulele-filled repertoire, taking on a slightly more personal tone and delivering an album full of summer jams despite some bland lyrics.
The album opens with the tune, “Call If You Need Me,” setting the stage for Joy’s all-consuming focus on love throughout the entire album. The first words of the song – “I love you in the morning when your blood runs to your cheeks” – reveal a more personal tone compared to the more generic love songs of his first album. However, while the preoccupation with love works well in some songs, such as “Call If You Need Me,” it is overbearing and banal on many others.
“Saturday Sun” talks about unrequited love, but the many sequences of “Ba-ba, ba-ba” and repetition of the somewhat nonsensical phrase “No ray of sunlight’s ever lost” undercut the potential weight of the song. And the cheesy metaphors only get worse as the album continues – the song “Crashing Into You” features cliches like “You light up my days” and “I was a bird, you opened the cage.”
Even some of the softer, more soulful songs fall victim to cliched lyrics. In “Alone With Me,” Joy sings “You’re beautiful but you just don’t see it sometimes/ And I don’t know why” – clearly reminiscent of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” But despite the boy band shout out, “Alone With Me” is one of the best songs on the album. Joy’s soft voice makes the dull lyrics sound sincere, and the slow drum beats and acoustic guitar pauses add extra weight to his words.
Songs like “Crashing Into You” also display Joy’s expanding musical repertoire following his last album. He incorporates smooth harmonies and fast drums, with long stretches of instrumentals that help emphasize the album’s diversified production value.
However, the songs that stick to simple acoustic instrumentals shine in comparison.
“We’re Going Home” begins slowly with only a guitar playing gently in the background, setting up a somewhat somber tone. The song adds in instruments like drums and trumpets, slowly building up to a joyful and vibrant tone. Joy also repeats the phrase “I’m home when I see your light shine,” creating a sentimental, albeit slightly cheesy, vibe.
“I’m With You” is another soft standout. When Joy sings “My darling, I’m ready, to burst into flames for you,” it’s believable, and expresses his fervent love. He saves his famous strained high notes for the end of the song, which makes the promise feel real. Because the song lacks the grand finish present in many of the other songs on the album, it packs a powerful punch without becoming overpowered by other heavier instruments.
Though it contains its fair share of cliches, “Nation of Two” is a decent successor to Joy’s first album “Dream Your Life Away.” With its bold jams and soft songs, all backed by Joy’s ukulele riffs, the album strikes the occasional raw, emotional chord amidst the occasional mindless repetition.