I still remember the first time I saw James Vincent McMorrow live. It was the inaugural leg of Falls Festival Byron Bay and it was disgustingly hot. Just days away from releasing his second album, Post Tropical, McMorrow played a mid-afternoon slot and proceeded to crush his set, all the while struggling with the Australian Summer sun. As I stood baking in the sun trying not to die from a goon induced hangover, I knew I was witnessing something pretty special. Returning with his fifth album, the fantastically named Grapefruit Season, the magic McMorrow had all those years ago is still entirely present and, if anything, has evolved into something even more special.
James Vincent McMorrow has always been open about his struggles with his mental health and has leant into this on Grapefruit Season. McMorrow makes a poignant point that because his life is real and the album draws from his life, Grapefruit Season isn’t a concept album, but a reality album. It’s a true reflection of his struggles, perspectives, feelings and goals in life now and into the future. His willingness to delve into his life is what shapes Grapefruit Season and differentiates it from his earlier releases.
First breaking ground as an artist on the back on the strength of his falsetto, his signature voice and style is still one of the more defining variables on the album. Tracks like “Waiting”, “We Don’t Kiss Under Umbrellas Like We Used To”, “Grapefruit”, “Poison to You” and “Part of Me” is McMorrow throwing it back to his earliest days, with the folk charm, emotion and vivid imagery reminiscent of his first album Early in the Morning. “Grapefruit” has an overwhelming weight to it which can be heard through McMorrow’s cries to his love as he professes his feelings despite some perceived troubles. Followed by “Part of Me”, McMorrow bares it all as he comes to terms with his faults and how these faults drive his insecurities and puts pressure on his relationships. Both songs are delicately emotional and likely to be the soundtrack to post break up meltdowns across the globe.
“Waiting” is a soft and reflective three and half minutes while “We Don’t Kiss Under Umbrellas Like We Used To” flickers like a candle’s flame in the wind. Both songs reflect on the better times in relationships, failures of these relationships, a longing for what used to be and a hopeful glimpse into the future. “We Don’t Kiss Under Umbrellas Like We Used To” is an incredibly sad yet honest song that feels like McMorrow at his storytelling peak.
These tracks aside, there’s an obvious push from McMorrow to embrace an almost hip-hop sound across Grapefruit Season. “A House and a River” vibes with a neat piano backtrack, while the repetitious drum and synth beat is the real hero of the track. The hip-hop feel continues on “Gone” (a song I’d describe as having a Drake beat), while the bass funk on “Planes in the Sky” goes a little RnB; something along the lines of Leon Bridges or Genesis Owusu. “Planes in the Sky” is probably the most different song on the album, and for that reason, one of the best.
Despite Grapefruit Season‘s overarching weight and sadness, opening track “Paradise” is a bounce in the direction of light and positivity, with the addition of a backing choir being a complete masterstroke. It’s a beautiful opening three minutes and makes you wonder how great it would be if McMorrow pursued an album of fun and happy-sad bangers like “Paradise”. Changing it up once more, “Headlight” has a drum and bass lite approach while continuing to rely on McMorrow’s vocals to pull the track through to its peak.
“Hollywood & Vine” is a personal favourite of mine and marries up everything I love about James Vincent McMorrow. The song floats yet has an underlying grief to it. Just like the vintage McMorrow on the album, the reflective tone of the song, matched with his vocals draws the listener in and doesn’t allow them to go without feeling something in the song. “Hollywood & Vine” is McMorrow at his most honest and complete.
In the lead up to the release of Grapefruit Season, James Vincent McMorrow has spoken openly about creating music for himself and not worrying about how people will interpret it once the album is released. Rest assured, even if it did worry him, there’s nothing to worry about on Grapefruit Season. His most round work to date, even five albums in, there’s still a level of innovation and magic left in the Irish artist.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Grapefruit Season is out Friday 17 September.
Header image credit: Evan Doherty