What do you call an inevitable fall? Yes, The xx dove directly into a sophomore slump, but that does not necessitate a discredit. Yes, Baria Qureshi was a key driver of the sound of the band and her fiasco of a dismissal is certainly a contributing factor to the failures of Coexist but none of those generalities address the issue of the album itself which fittingly coexists with their début. What even defines a sophomore slump?
A sophomore slump is derivative but in a fashion of a poor facsimile, in the sense of a slow but definite declining. To start, compare Intro to Angels. The first is an absolute triumph, an appropriate introduction to the band for many, and something that is so significant that it stands both as a start to a gorgeous album and also as a monolithic creation, a testament to their own talent of minimalism. On the other hand, Angels is not only a poor start to an album, it would not even have stood out on their début, effervescent as it attempts to be, it ends up falling flat. However, the question is whether this was a singular and temporal failure or rather an indicator of what is to come.
The next duo of songs attempts to argue in favor of the latter, as it defends The xx of the first album. It is original, it is inventive, it is artistic and yet it still subtly meanders, not quite hitting the previous peaks. However, on Coexist, Chained and Fiction feel like standouts, utter benchmarks of artistic innovation. Objectively however, these are anything but.
Whereas on xx, the music swelled and burst, crescendoing beautifully, here the music is only swill, the weak, overused grounds of the remnants of coffee after the real cup has already been made. Reunion is a wonderful example of the defining feeling of the album, that is of a sub-par follow-up, a true residue or remnant of what has already happened, what has already been made. Sunset attempts to counter that feeling but it is again only a brief respite to the same familiar emotion which is screaming, “This has already happened and last time this was better.”
Disappointment abounds, but the worst part is that the album isn’t even independently terrible. The xx still makes somewhat interesting music and the atmosphere is still there in spades. However, the band’s own past triumphs are precisely what dooms this albums. In essence, if I want to listen to The xx, why wouldn’t I listen to the far superior first album? Is it natural for our lives to peak and then to seem like everything we do is descending in importance, in meaning? Unfortunately that’s possible and it’s likely that the feeling would pervade everything even if the things we were doing were still remarkable. That’s just the way the world works; this is the reason that people making 300k a year in the sunny parts of the world can still be highly dissatisfied and not feel that their remarks are objectively outlandish. Objectivism isn’t real because what the fuck is the point of a Patek Phillipe if I am surrounded by A. Lange & Söhne wearers? Incidentally, it feels that The xx could appreciate the works of the great German masters. They are too devoted to minimalism. Why gerrymander if you can win regardless? Tradition?
Yes this is a flight of fancy, an Icarus again; but what are the options? It’s best to be bathed in golden sunshine even for an instant, then to eternally crawl the earth. Fucking bloom and burst and die and let live, but never claim to be sad when nothing of substance occurs for you in your entire life and suddenly it’s all over at 81 when it should have ended at a third of that. It’s a hollow play, but sometimes the first act is self-contained. If that is so, then my birthday in a few days bookends the second act of my life, the great tumultuous development and build, and the third act with the high action and the final dénouement is to come.
Now that’s exciting, in a way that this album cannot be. Perhaps instead of succumbing to the temptation of attempting to write the same successful album again they should have written about the struggles of what it means to try to replicate your success. In essence, a successful story about replication without replication of success. But it was never The xx’s forte to be convoluted, and thus just like any minimalist they are eventually doomed to replicate themselves. And that’s why this was inevitable.