My immediate response to Confess, forthcoming from Twin Shadow (it drops Tuesday, July 10), is wholly visceral. I want to be 15 again. I want to go to a high school dance in the gym, wearing too much Bonne Belle lip gloss, barely daring to hope for a slow dance with the likes of George Lewis, Jr. (the pompadoured singer/songwriter/genius known, on stage, as Twin Shadow).
Or maybe I just want to sit on the basement steps in my childhood home with the phone cord stretched tight so I can hide in the relative privacy and talk through the night to the voice on the other end — a voice that would have to sound like that perfect balance of Bruce Springsteen and Billy Idol.
Lewis is just that — my teenage years, my angst, my hopes, my dark nights, my solo dance parties — distilled and poured into a record. There’s a definitive new wave flavor to all that Lewis touches, and yet he brings it into the present. It’s all about taste and aesthetic. There are synthesizers and vocal effects, but no saxophone. There’s piano along with drum pad. It’s a high-low mix of digital and analog, of warm and cool, of agony and relief, of past and future.
Confess, from start to finish, aches with unrequited love. It echoes and booms, haunted, slinking down rain-slick streets, dodging street lights and lurking in doorways. It twirls in corners and reaches for shadows. It swoons. Lead track, “Golden Light,” is lovelorn but decidedly not dejected. This is a Psychedelic Furs for the 21st century, rich with reverb, velvety; Lewis’ vocal a resonant center to the swirl of synths.
“You Call On Me” enters on the heels of the previous track, layers of percussion and vocal reminding of an ‘80s-era Prince hit, minus the falsetto and high heels. Lewis imbues all of his songs with a dense sexiness that borders on androgynous. He’s not effeminate in any way, but his emotions are front and center, his pout is palpable. His lyrics conjure the confusing kind of urgency that draws both boys and girls. To imagine (hypothetically) his high school dance make out session taking place with a pretty boy is not a disturbing thought.
“Five Seconds” ramps up the love-drunkeness of the album with Springsteen-circa-“Tunnel of Love” drive. Tart drum beats, lofty keys, thrumming bass all propel the song toward a breathless zenith. It’s that moment of longing, the cinematic crisis, the rain-soaked kiss. It’s the memory of how it felt to be young and confused and in love (or some unidentifiable hormone cocktail of emotions) for the first time.
Watch the video for “Five Seconds” here:
“This isn’t love. I’m just a boy and you’re just a girl,” Lewis sings on “Run My Heart,” in which the kick drum is an aortic pulse and the vocal jogs up through spacey synths and atmosphere until it crashes into the chorus.
Few albums can maintain a theme throughout, let alone a level of intensity — especially when it’s this kind of lovesick, dream-pop, dance-floor marathon. But Lewis does it. Each song lifts the tired subject (romantic love) into a new light, shaking it out, wringing it out, examining it from all angles. Lewis sings “The One” in a higher range, his voice equal parts Morrissey-smooth, all Robert Smith-broken.
“Here comes your love, he longs to be near you. Here comes the summer, I have to be with you,” he sings on “Beg For The Night.” All of the album’s 11 tracks (including hidden track “Mirror in the Dark,” which starts at the 5:30 mark of “Be Mine Tonight”) are variations on the theme. This could be a breakup album — those tend to inspire artists to examine a singular emotion over and over. But Confess feels metaphorical.
“I want to be adored by your lips and your hands. Can’t seem to tell you this,” Lewis says on “Patient,” a snappier, lusher, rhythmic track. It crackles with longing. Rock guitars seer amid the crunch of reverb. The song hints at a passion that isn’t returned. It hints at a desire for something bigger and perhaps less definitive that romance. Spiritual love manifested as physical desire. Or love for art, serving a fickle muse, suffering through the dark hours, pleading with the shadows and echoes for a thing that’s impossible to name. (“I’m sending all my love to the one, the one who’s always there,” Lewis sings on “The One.”)
Or, maybe Confess is just about a man caught up in the ebb and flow of a relationship that takes as much as it gives. Craving, absence, dusky longing that, in its wake, leaves brilliantly realized songs. “I Don’t Care” suggests this — its knife edge of bitter fervor glinting through the piano, the layers of guttural sounds, the thick drums and the lyrics: “I don’t care, I don’t care, as long as you can dance me around the room while you lie to me.”
That Lewis suffered for this album seems likely. Even if the songs weren’t culled from his own anguish, just to go to that place is to stare into the abyss. It’s a time machine back to the untempered pain of first love, before reason and experience provided balm against undiluted misery. But without that bright wound, some of the best songs — the “Every Breath You Take” and “I’m On Fire” cannon — would never have been written. Time will tell, of course, but Confess has the weight and, also, the unbearable lightness, to spend time in that company.