Borns - Blue Madonna
Børns (Garrett Borns) garnered a lot of viral success from his debut 2015 single "Electric Love", an infectious glam/synth/pop song that was subsequently used to sell everything from Chrysler vehicles to Snapchat “Memories” to Hulu’s streaming service. The song was everywhere for a hot second and propelled Børns to share the stage with the likes of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and Lana Del Rey, yet you’ve probably never even heard of him. Who is this mysterious figure and how does his second studio album Blue Madonna fair in the foray of today’s homogenous pop music?
It is hard for any artist to live up to the commercial success of a huge hit and simply by its own virtue it creates an expectation of that artist. In following up his first studio album “Dopamine”, Børns has both lived up to expectations put on him by his label and disappoints his core fans in the same stroke on his current outing. Compared to “Dopamine” which was filled with catchy hooks, funk grooves, melodies and a fuller depth in exploring instrumentation, Blue Madonna is decidedly more somber and self-reflective.
Blue Madonna is a bit of a contradiction, it takes its name from Carlo Dolci’s painting of the same name, a work of a woman veiled in blue over a black background, one that is supposed to invoke a feeling of calm and melancholy in its simplicity. If this is the aesthetic being striven for then it succeeds, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Produced, again, by Tommy English (Dark Waves, Black Veil Brides, 5 Seconds of Summer) the album is polished and over polished and the emotive elements are somewhat muted by this. However, the songs fit as they should and the overall somber feel of the album is intact. Børns himself is a mysterious figure. He doesn’t reveal a lot about himself in interviews that don’t pertain to his music and his self-admitted androgynous appearance and singing style often get him confused as a woman on first listen. In this sense he seems to be channeling Prince, but the content of Blue Madonna is less about the peak of sexual liberation and more a yearning to be loved wrapped in self-doubt.
Overall, Blue Madonna is a good album, it just doesn’t quite seem to capture what made Børns appealing in the first place, catchy funk riffs with an old school feel. The album opens with the only vocal collaboration on the album “God Save Our Young Blood” featuring Lana Del Rey (Her sister provided the album art). The track harkens to Lorde stylistically but is a somewhat bland angst anthem. Following that is the single of the album “Faded Hearts”, complete with an organ and a swooping chorus that demonstrates Born’s impressive vocal range and cohesive songwriting. As the album pushes forward, we get some “ballad” style tracks like “Iceberg” , “Blue Madonna” and the closing track “Bye-bye Darling” that doesn't seem to really go anywhere. Standouts are “Sweet Dreams”, a fittingly dreamy synth-pop track that chugs along at a satisfying pace, “ I Don’t Want U Back” a harmony-filled electro track with a subtle vocal effect that works surprisingly well and lastly “Supernatural” which feels like the perfect mix between the 60s love songs and current funk electronic music.
The album takes a few chances but it leaves you wanting more. Overall, it is disjointed and lyrically seems to bounce back and forth between heartbreak and yearning for something new. Børns is clearly trying to channel artists from the past and put a new age spin on them, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no doubt Børns is an extremely talented performer, songwriter and singer. All of his songs pay special attention to melody and harmony and an acoustic version could easily be made out of any of them. However, the album strays too far from what made him successful in the first place and that was a funky revival of artists of old, combined with the machine of a major label it loses its appeal. The concept of “indie” in the mainstream is a difficult balance. How do you pay homage to your fans while still being able to “sellout” enough to keep your label overlords happy? It is hard to say if he succeeded. Only time will tell, but Blue Madonna strived to accomplish too much and ultimately accomplished too little.