On ‘All I Need,’ Foxes Dictates The Terms of Her Heartbreak (Album Review)
Imagine for a minute — toward the tail-end of Friends — that Rachel Green hadn't wavered from the chance to start a new life overseas. Rather than submit to a dead-end relationship in New York for the sake of comfort, she'd remember her ex's terrible qualities: his pedantic lecturing, an annoyingly singular interest in paleontology, how quickly he, a six-foot-tall dark cloud, could kill a caffeine buzz. Maybe her heart would ache, and loneliness would hit hard, but only she would dictate the terms of her wounding: no bargaining, no retracing old steps, no transatlantic concessions.
Foxes, whose 2014 debut, Glorious, delivered enough pop polish to wax a fleet of fire trucks, told PopCrush she was aiming for something a little rawer with All I Need: more pronounced strings, moodier piano and stories that rested closer to her heart. And while its first single, the synthy, '80s-leaning "Body Talk," painted a bit of different picture, the album's additional tracks succeed in spelling out hurt typically reserved for painful late-night phone calls. Still, you won't hear the East Londoner weeping into her receiver's end — instead, she volleys heartache right back into her lover's ear. Breakups may be two-man games, but in this particular match, Foxes has got home-court advantage, and regulation doesn't allow time for mourning.
As soon as the second track, "Better Love," Foxes demands jurisdiction in the recounting of her grief. There are no alternate versions of her story to consider, nothing that's subject to interpretation — she holds the copyright, a point she emphasizes by frequently speaking in the declarative or making demands to a second party. "Show me a better love," she commands on the grand, sweeping track. "Now you’re just a scar, a story to tell / Such an ugly mark but I wear it so well," she later insists on "Scar," a foot-stomping, tambourine-peppered reclamation track.
And the album's production similarly conveys an image of an artist with authority. While ballads, once requisite pieces of any pop album, have largely disappeared from radio, Foxes has ensured All I Need includes at least a handful. Albums like Christina Aguilera's Stripped, which included the broken-down "Beautiful" and "The Voice Within," were a fundamental part of her development, Foxes said, and noted she would have done her sophomore effort a disservice if its narrative didn't didn't ebb and flow; accelerate and break.
"To me, the albums that I was growing up with that I really, really loved have those ups and downs, have those ballads, have such a mix of it all — it's really telling a story in lots of different ways, so it was really important for me to have them on there," she said. "[But] I didn't struggle with having them on the album. I'm very in control of what goes on the album and the decisions that are made...hopefully this will feel more authentic with lots of different sides to it."
There are a complex polygon's worth. Even among its slower notes, All I Need explores contrasting senses of eeriness, naive hope and solitude with finesse that keeps them from seeming disparate. "Devil's Side," a grim, slow take on the temptation to bow to a lover's harshness is a world away from the arresting, delicate "If You Leave Me Now," but it's clear both exist in the same universe. And "On My Own," an orchestral nod to newly cultivated self-government, functions as a decisive but malleable binding. "Something I just need to learn / Every time I feel alone / Can't keep running back to you again," she cries, nearly wailing.
Still, what goes down, must come up[tempo]. "Cruel," the album's most club-ready contribution, is even more aggressive than Foxes' feature on Zedd's massive, Grammy-winning "Clarity," but doesn't pull punches, and continues to chip away at her lover's defenses. "It’s hard to love someone who can’t be loved, but it’s what you do, what you do / You’re so cruel," she scolds.
Finally, when the fight's over, and the arms have been lowered, Foxes has the sense to hop into her jeep and escape the limits of battle lines. "Amazing," the video for which literally finds the singer and her friends on a road trip, cruises along to a sense of optimism that manifests once the dust has cleared. "With a touch, you bring me back to life, I'm rising / And I don't even know if I'll survive, but I'm all in," she says in an unusual installment of uncertainty.
In a pop-landscape replete with duets and collaborations, Foxes doesn't have a single feature among her own work — she told PopCrush she's prioritized demonstrating autonomy in a post-"Clarity" world. If there was any doubt she's now firmly standing on her own two feet, it's been eradicated; at this rate, it would take concurrent earthquakes to knock her off-balance.