Album Review: Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional

[Astralwerks; 2012]

The fluorescent, acidulous colours radiating out from behind a gender-ambiguous portrait on Free Dimensional‘s cover provide a reasonably telling look at its contents. Diamond Rings (one man show John O’Regan) longs to capture the over-the-top flair of the 80s, the decade he was born in and draws his influence from. It is O’Regan’s follow-up to last year’s well-received debut Special Affectations, which, despite its roots, occasionally teetered on art pop. Free Dimensional returns to those silken textures, but neglects to bring anything else to the table, namely a personality. 

“I can fly across the ocean,” begins of O’Regan on “Everything Speaks”, brimming with confidence. But despite his seeming sure-footedness, Free Dimensional is little more than bravura spouted over wearyingly open-ended songs with sanitized production. Most of them involve themes of love and desire, but they’re delivered with an impassivity that would make you think that O’Regan is singing about people he doesn’t care for. Even when his sentiments are positive, the garden-variety lyrics used only serve to chip away at their memorability: “Come a little closer/I don’t mind/I wanna be with you all the time.”

O’Regan’s blunt, nasally baritone is serviceable but often lethargic; he doesn’t challenge himself or even move out of that unmistakably masculine range. Killers-styled track “Runaway Love” provides an injection of energy before things slow down with tedious snoozer “Put Me On” and self-aggrandizing lead single “I’m Just Me.” The stylistic choices here are safe, expected and limited, and the lyrics pursue a similar ideal. Closer “Day & Night”’s attempts at irreverence amuse, but it counts on you not taking it seriously. When he’s weltering into personal territory, there’s a sense that O’Regan would do well to dig a little deeper; “A to Z,” O’Regan’s self-examination of hedonism quickly deteriorates into dance floor trifle.

The artificiality of the world’s diamond industry is a poorly kept secret. Likewise, Free Dimensional tries, and is largely unsuccessful, at taking commonplace elements and endowing them with value. “Runaway Love” excepting, the whole album taps on the glass ceiling politely, resisting the temptation to burst through. It’s shiny but fluffy, and sure to be a disappointment to those hoping that O’Regan could build on the promise of Special Affectations.