The evolution of Tom Krell, aka How To Dress Well, can perhaps most appropriately be compared to that of St Vincent’s – starting out very much in the musical underbelly, not always that accessible and having a tendency to divide opinion among tastemakers.
However, with each album and over a career which in modern record company terms is unusual in being allowed to gain momentum gradually, there has been a creep towards the mainstream. But never once has either How to Dress Well nor St Vincent lost the essence of the artist within.
Care is Mr Krell’s step into the big time.
First single ‘Lost Youth/Lost You’ sets out its stall very clearly although no-one could have predicted the sheer wallop of the chorus on that song. We’re talking stadium sized big. And fittingly, despite the punch it packs sonically and melodically, it’s the first How To Dress Well song that actually made me cry. That’s saying something for an artist who on much of his back catalogue sounds on the verge of a breakdown himself.
Ironically on another album highlight ‘Anxious’ he’s never sounded less so – this is the album’s purest pop moment where Tom almost makes fun of himself and his obsession with social media followers – “why am I addicted to such attention” he sings and you hear the smile as he does. On a previous album the meaning would have been interpreted entirely differently.
On ‘I Was Terrible’ the piano intro suggests a throwback to previous records, before bursting forth into a bleepy synthpop sadbanger. ‘Burning Up’ (no, not a Madonna cover) is a modern take on the 80s slow jam – in a ‘Jam and Lewis production’ kind of way (Janet Jackson would be proud of this one). Of course Krell makes it work.
On ‘What’s Up’ it seems almost impossible that How To Dress Well could make a summery (don’t say tropical) bop without a total cringe but somehow he navigates this musical development without a hitch. There’s a hint of The Weeknd on the funky-but-hiding-it-well ‘Can’t You Tell’ – again a sound he makes his own.
Care is not a completely upbeat record. That would be a step too far and there are plenty of melancholy moments throughout, but you almost expect each song to explode in a different direction halfway through. Care is a stunning collection of tracks by an artist still finding his way, but who now seems to be having fun at the same time. 4/5