Music columnist Axel Koch takes a look back at Troye Sivan’s latest album
Singing about the same stuff that pop songs have been about for decades, only from a queer perspective is hardly a distinguishing feature in 2018. Yet, on his second studio album Bloom, the 23-year-old Australian singer Troye Sivan adds a fresh tinge to familiar pop platitudes by imbuing his stories of love, lust, and heartbreak between men with a type of eroticism that is just hovering on the threshold between innocence and naughtiness.
Except for one incongruous f-word on “Postcard”, Bloom prefers cheeky suggestiveness over explicit vulgarity. Similarly, on “My My My”, where metaphorical orgasm is made more exciting by a reference to his lover’s buzz cut and Sivan suddenly deciding that he would actually rather go fast than go slow in the middle of the second verse. There’s a possible nod to part of “Chanel”, Frank Ocean’s most confidently queer song, on the phallically titled Lucky Strike, as Sivan sees “[his] boy like a queen” and asks to be drowned in his partner’s “water” over a propulsive club-ready beat. Sivan also echoes some of the more experimental instrumentation on Frank Ocean’s blond, featuring a beat switch that briefly interrupts the soaring synths of the majestic closing track “Animal” with an R&B beat and auto-tuned vocals. Unsurprisingly, Ariana Grande sounds livelier than on her entire Sweetener album on the stay-at-home anthem “Dance to This”.
Even better is the title track, an effervescent synth-pop banger about bottoming. “Put gas into the motor”, Sivan croons, and pearls of sweat start forming on the brow of the unsuspecting listener, lulled by the bittersweet break-up story of “The Good Side”. Speaking of bodily fluids, “Plum” seems to be on a mission to rob peaches of the title of most homoerotic fruit post-Call Me By Your Name and in fact references that novel’s imaginative masturbation method, but is ultimately too broad in its lyrics (“I was summer, you were spring, you can’t change what the seasons bring”) and too generic in its Swedish hit-maker sheen to leave much of an impression. Similarly, “Seventeen” is about losing one’s virginity to an older man met on Grindr – certainly not an everyday pop song topic – but such experiences particular to queer culture are lost to those listening without consulting Sivan’s interviews about the album in a pretty but commonplace “I went out looking for love when I was seventeen” chorus.
While Bloom exhibits a far smaller drop-off ratio between singles and deep cuts than most pop albums, the slower tunes generally tend to be more forgettable – even then, the lacklustre ballad “Postcard” is lifted to a stunning finish by the powerful, androgynous vocals of Australian singer-songwriter Gordi, while “The Good Side” is enlivened by an ethereal coda in which the song’s gentle folk rock melody is replaced by sparkling synths and a gradually receding bassline. “What a Heavenly Way to Die”, however, only shoots itself in the foot by referencing The Smiths and thereby drawing attention to how a superior lyricist like Morrissey would have found infinitely more exciting ways of expressing adoration than “Forever is in your eyes/ but forever ain’t half the time”.
All the same, Bloom is an endearingly catchy release – it’s the kind of bright, sexy electropop that Years & Years could be making if Olly Alexander weren’t intent on silly sci-fi concept albums for some reason; or The 1975, if Matt Healy liked boys more and drugs less. But most of all, Sivan has moved beyond his talent show and YouTube vlogging days to establish himself as a distinctive and confident new voice in modern pop.